By Agnes E. Nantaba
Tajdin Alibhai Kassam is the CEO of Snowmans Uganda Ltd, importers and distributors of diary processing machinery and other equipment. He spoke to Agnes E. Nantaba about their operations.
What are the key elements in your management style as a manager?
I choose to take on the right people, few people in number and encourage them to grow through hard work. The most important value that I inculcate in the staff team is high regard for discipline and principles of the team. Because of that, our rate of staff turnover is almost zero. I believe that for any business to stand the test of time, it must be driven by strong will power to uphold its principles.
What is your rating of the performance of the SME division in Uganda?
Having SMEs in a country with an enabling environment while they meet regularly on the basis of exchanging ideas is a good idea that encourages individual innovations and entrepreneurship
What key elements characterize the status and performance the diary processing subsector in Uganda?
We were part of the founding team of the dairy processing industry in Uganda. Our main aim was to see that farmers earn more through value addition. But with the revival of Uganda Dairy Processors Association, some entrepreneurs declined to be part of it as individual interests over-powered the interests of many stakeholders.
Much as the role of ensuring quality standards is more inclined to DDA and UNBS, we have moved steps ahead in terms of quality of processed milk. The present administration of dairy processors is doing a good job. However, the government policy has to be revised to encourage more individual or small scale farmers to have own dairies as opposed to big processors if the returns are to get back to the farmers.
You recently diversified to include the distribution of other equipment other than dairy equipment. What explains the move?
For us to keep relevant in the market, diversification into increasingly market-demanded equipment and machinery was the way to go. This is due to the slow growth of the dairy subsector in Uganda.
We are also venturing into value-added projects like stabilizers for water and affordable yet high quality machines for the bakery industry.
What challenges do you have to deal with? Unlike our counterparts in Kenya, we lack good technical support and yet Uganda really needs lots of qualified technicians for hardcore machinery and equipment in all sectors. We have tried to bring on board some Kenyans to train Ugandans but there is a lot more to be done. Although our people are blessed with a good climate and food, they have to up the game and utilize the opportunities that come along with regionalization of the East African Community (EAC) through exploring skills in management and technical work execution.
How do these challenges hamper the growth of the SME division in the country?
The greatest challenge that is beyond our means is infrastructure, which makes transportation the biggest cost or expense for SME’s. But with plans underway to revive railway transport, we are hopeful that once executed the costs will dramatically come down. The other challenges we face include the delays at Custom points, which really frustrate development. It’s a nightmare to export to other countries even Kenya yet it’s easy and quicker vice versa.
What key areas should the government and partners focus on to develop the SME division and dairy-processing industry in the country?
SMEs in Uganda employ more than 2.5m people and contribute over 70% of total GDP. While the National Development Plan strongly emphasizes the fact that the private sector is the engine of growth, employment creation and socio-economic transformation to which SME’s are part, a lot has to be done if they are to become a reality. The government has to re-align the thinking based on not what’s good for few individuals but what’s good for the entire country because there are not many countries in the world that can produce good organic products.
The government must therefore bring SMEs to the forefront of policy design and implementation if socio-economic transformation is to be achieved. Issues of value chain development, value addition (agro-processing for agribusiness SMEs), access to markets, etc, must be strongly focused on so that the returns from the SME sector more than double. Milk consumption is still very low. The government still has to come in to justify the high cost of processed milk that scares away many intended milk consumers.
The micro issues need more government intervention to encourage milk consumption. Milk must be accessible to all. The idea of milk ‘ATM’ that was introduced by some private investor is a good initiative as it makes milk affordable for as low as Shs 500. The government should borrow a leaf from success stories of countries like China to expand the market of milk and its products. In order to respond to the specific needs of the SMEs, business information services should create value by bringing together information from different sources – both local and international. This enables the integration of the SMEs into national and global value chains.
What is your reading of Snowman’s future in the next few years?
We are here to stay and leave a legacy that will on for decades. We will continue to encourage more farmers and other individuals to consider the dairy industry for investment.