Food Science student domesticates and adds value to traditional Goose berries
Goose berries traditionally known as Ntuntunu in Luganda is a traditional wild fruit that many natives would come across in the bush. The plant yields heavily and when ripe it is mostly consumed by picking the fruit, opening it and chewing. However, the growing population and pressure on the environment means that the fruit can no longer survive as bushes are cleared for settlement and farming.
Makerere Food Science student Vincent Ssekagya is one of the brains that saw the business potential of the goose berries and decided to domesticate and add value to the goose berries. Today, he has gone commercial and produces three products namely goose berry jam, goose berry juice and wine under the brand name VICRIS.
The goose berry plant and fruits ready for harvesting.
“I started this business when I was a student in my third year during a course unit called Food Product Development at the School of Food Technology, Nutrition and Bio-engineering. I thought of what to develop and what came into my mind was the gooseberries after seeing them in plenty at Kabanyolo being grown as a project by former students of agriculture. I developed gooseberry jam which product was liked and on this I added juice and wine in 2012 and these have proved that I can get where I want to be”. Ssekagya narrated.
Mak Food Science students Vincent Sekagya in the gooseberry garden
Sekagya said he selectively prepared his own seeds and created a garden of 4.5 acres on a family land in Butambala district and got some out growers whom he gave seeds freely to plant and sell to him.
“When I started on the goose berry jam, I used the machine at the School of Food Technology to extract the first seeds got from berries, I isolated them for planting and over time I have managed to keep collecting quality seeds with 80% viability for planting and sold them at exhibitions all aimed at making fruits flood the market and lowering market price” He said.
His farm in Butambala yielded 800kgs per week above what he required to make Jam and therefore decided to diversify and got into the production of goose berry juice and wine. “When I started the juice, it was not very much accepted because the berries have a lot of acid with a bitter taste. So I blended it with mango and after that blend, the juice acceptability level went high”. Ssekagya said.
On average Ssekagya packs 40 bottles of goose berry wine per week but on busy weekends he can pack up to 150 bottles and sells 20 – 40 bottles at 10,000/= per bottle. He does one- on -one selling and occasionally supplies to weddings and graduation parties on order. The wine process takes about six months and so he packs it after seven months old because the longer the time, the better the wine.
“ I do one on one selling of wine alone but it always shows me that the product is liked and here am only limited by the weight I can carry in a bag but if my dreams of getting a van come true, this out put will quadruple. I do not sell to supermarkets because they need large quantities and they take long to pay yet I have limited capital” he says.
The Goose berry Wine
His juice has a turn over of 50 boxes per week (each box has 24 bottles) and this is sold in retail outlets like the Food Technology Food Palour, M-product bread outlet at Yamaha centre opposite Old Park, Divine supermarkets Nansana, some shops in Busega and Mukono. A 300ml bottle goes for 1000/= while one for 500ml bottle costs 1500/=.
He also produces 30-35 jars of goose berry jam per month sold to bread outlets at a cost of 5000/= a jar.
“I want to penetrate the whole of Uganda by the end of this year and to achieve this I have started contracting more farmers and also carried out backward integration by setting up plots in different areas in addition to contracting farmers in Mityana, Mukono, Butambala, Kabale, Gayaza, and other areas”.
However not all was smooth for Ssekagya. In Butambala, Sekyagaya employed over 30 people to pick the berries each paid 5000/= daily in addition to providing lunch. Labour sustainability is a major setback. In addition heavier yields at times result to loses due to perishability, lack of transport and distance to the market in Kampala.
“The wine is capital intensive and needs a lot of sugar for example 20 litres require 20 kilos. I use taxis to bring berries to Kampala and one bag of 50 kilograms costs me 7000/= which is not profitable”.
Some of the workers on the goose berry farm in Butambala
In June 2012, the 4.5 acre farm in Butambala was totally wiped out by the drought as he could not afford an irrigation system forcing him to depend on out- growers in Kabale, Kayunga, Mityana and Butambala district who, by a telephone call supply him with berries at a slightly higher price of 3000/= per kilogram to sustain the production.
“I have contracted four people and some of their farms and their plants have started flowering while others are in nursery beds. I am also getting plots around city suburbs especially places near Kampala to reduce on transport costs. I have started one in Buloba, Kitende and Kayunga and supplied them with seeds and come July business will be good.” He said.
He said farmers were also reluctant to new changes because sometimes they have been disappointed by incoming crop projects which they do not have market but he managed to convince them that he would be giving a deposit and personally got involved, encouraged and advised them on agronomy practices including monitoring them so that they do not feel abandoned.
The other challenge he said is that starting a food industry is capital intensive in terms of good packaging to fetch high premium. So as a beginner he is limited financially to import good quality packaging materials.
“Another challenge is setting up your own machinery. When you use locally available machines, people think the product is substandard. So I really thank the University for putting up the incubation centre because here we use all available equipment for free as graduates”.
Sekagya(L) processing goose berry juice at the Makerere Incubation Centre
Despite all the challenges, Ssekagya’s company has grown slowly by working closely with the School of Food Technology, Nutrition and Bio-engineering under the Food Technology Business Incubation Centre (FTBIC). Ssekagya is optimistic that this business is one that can employ many people in the future.
“I will need over one thousand employees because the farm needs people to maintain it, those to pick berries and removing blossoms after harvesting requires a lot of labor. I also got market for freshly packed berries in supermarkets for direct consumption and am setting up fields so that by June –July I will have my harvest.”
Speaking proudly of his course, Ssekagya does not regret doing the course in Food Product development on grounds that the business has made him survive in terms of day to day requirements including house rent and paying off labourers and made him known as the first person to add value and domesticating the originally known wild fruit in Uganda now common on Kampala streets.
“I don’t regret studying a course in Food Science because when I was in senior six I thought I would become a medical doctor but when results came I had been given Food Science and technology on government scholarship, a course that went really into Food and Value addition, Nutrition that really gave me the knowledge and skills in Food processing”.
Ssekagya advices fellow graduates to try to start up something small as they look for the job because it is not a guarantee that they will get the jobs. In fact he said they should not wait for the papers to look for jobs because they are not there.
The goose berry juice on the shelf
Ssekagya’s dream is to see a goose berry brand and needs support to set up a factory and to create jobs for other people. Currently, he is working under the FTBIC and needs to graduate from there to establish his own premises and machinery to employ more.
Goose berries take three months from the time of planting to harvest. One raises a nursery bed for three weeks and after two months and one week the plants would have flowered and bore fruits ready for picking. Harvesting goes on continuously every day for a period of four to five months as long as there is no drought. However when mulching is practiced one can harvest all year.
Sekagya at one of the rural storage facility with the harvested goose berries