Potato farmers find fortunes in value addition firm

Over 4500 Irish potato farmers from Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo are set to benefit from the newly constructed potato value addition firm in Kisoro which will offer ready market and increased farm gate prices.

Kisoro Potato Processing Industry which was set up by a determined Ugandan business man Tom Mugenga is aimed at capitalizing on the regions vast endowment with Irish Potato. The setting up of the firm according to Tom is a revelation of how an inspiration can drive someone into fulfilling his dreams. Tom who worked at the Kenyan Coast realized the huge market available for the French Fries especially to the tourism industry and the growing middle class. This prompted him to borrow a leaf and set a similar firm that adds value to the tuber as well as having a social impact.

According to Magenga, the factory aims at producing a distinctive brand of potato fries to capture sustainable niche market while empowering the primary producers, the small holder farmers, to achieve higher production and improved post harvest handling. Its’ widely noted that most small holder farmers incur post harvest losses due lack of timely connection to the market. In Uganda, crop post-harvest losses have been estimated at 5-15per cent for cereals and legumes, 20-25per cent for root and tubers and over 35percent for fruit and vegetables. Therefore the setting up of this firm near the farmers may greatly tame these losses.

The factory which is worth over sh14b will initially have a production line for potato chips (French fries) with a capacity of 20 tons daily. It is also envisaged to install other lines to cater for chilling and processing of other crops including cabbages, carrots, peas among others and later on diversify to products such as tomato sauce, tinned beans and peas, and spices for Ugandan urban markets with an eye to regional markets.

The factory is located in Kisoro district in the western part of Uganda about 510 km from capital Kampala. The factory is deemed to benefit farmers from the three countries Rwanda, Uganda and DRC. Its’ only 12km from the DRC border post of Bunagana and 9 km from the Rwanda border of Cyanika.

Other development organizations within the area already popularized potato growing in the area and therefore setting a soft starting point for the factory. FAO’s Patricia Nsiime narrated how they had worked very hard in a cross boarder project to create awareness that resulted in dramatic increase in the growing potatoes not only in Uganda but also in Rwanda and Eastern DRC. She and her team had found high end restaurants including Nandoos and Steers in Kampala to begin to accept Uganda potatoes to make their French fries. This was against stiff competition of imports from South Africa and Egypt. It was exciting to her therefore, seeing that the Uganda restaurants were now going to receive Ugandan products on their menu.

Irish potato farmers from the area have been organized into a single association in order to enhance their involvement with the company. They aggregate their produce under the association from where the company purchases them. Ideally according Magenga, the farmers will be paid twice per year as per their supplies and according to the seasons. In order to ensure heightened community participation, the company has ceded some shares to the farmers through the Kisoro Potato Farmers and Marketing Association, a district wide association of potato growers and traders. The association currently has over 4500 farmers.

The project was funded by Netherlands Private Sector Investment of the Netherlands. “PSI saw a good investment idea with a social impact and came on board. PSI later reimbursed all funds that the project would incur in construction and building works,” explained Tom. In order to set the whole firm running, Tom got an additional funding from Uganda Development Bank which was hugely used to procure the machinery from Israel.