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Sembuya’s chocolate dreams

Stephen Sembuya Showing off his Cocoa.

Young entrepreneur exploits well-kept secret

Kampala, Uganda | ANDREW S. KAGGWA | That Uganda has the largest single owned cocoa farm in Africa is perhaps one of the best kept secrets – and Stephen Sembuya, the co-owner of the cocoa trading and processing firm Pink Foods Industries, was born into it.

The cocoa farm, which is on about one square mile – or 640 acres – is in Nkokonjeru sub-county in Buikwe District on the edge of Lake Victoria in the central region of Uganda. Sembuya’s grandfather planted the trees 53 years ago and, over this period, three generations of the Sembuyas have been exporting dried cocoa seeds to Europe.

But the young Sembuya who trained in marketing at the prestigious Makerere University Business School (MUBS) is determined to change that – by building of a multibillion shilling factory to process the beans into chocolate at home.

Sembuya appears to have been bitten by the industrial entrepreneurship bug from his father, Christopher Sembuya. He was a partner with his deceased young brother, Henry Buule, in what in the 1980s and early 90s was once a household name; the Sembule Group of Companies which dealt in banking, steel smelting and metal fabrication, and electronics production of radios and televisions.

Though no longer in existence Sembule’s name still remains as the village where the industries are located in the Nalukolongo in Kampala City’s Lubaga Division is still called Sembule Zone.

Pink Foods is already producing chocolate, mainly in huge lumps for industrial use and a few bars for sale to the public in supermarkets. Volumes might rise dramatically in March this year when installation of machinery is completed at the US$1 million (Approx. Shs3.6 billion) factory being built about two kilometers from Kyanja trading centre in Nakawa Division of Kampala City.

“When this factory is finished,” Sembuya who is the Chief Executive Officer of Pink Foods Industries says, “The days of people thinking of chocolate as a luxury will be over as it will be more affordable than even bread.”

He was speaking from his office in a not so big building which currently serves as the production station. Later, he takes me to the storerooms and shows me one of the chocolate lumps –weighing a kilo – and says they sell it to confectioneries at Shs25,000. He says they cut similar blocks into small bars and sell to supermarkets, hotels, and restaurants.

At present Pink Foods needs 500 kgs of cocoa beans for an eight hour shift per day and employs 120 workers both on the farm and the factory. They get most of this from the farm in Nkokonjeru. But they also have out-growers in several parts of Buikwe District.

“After the completion of the factory we shall double or even triple our present input but of course we shall need more cocoa beans,” says Felix Okuye, the Executive Director and co-founder of Pink Foods.

As part of the plan, Okoye says Pink Food is banking on the over nine million seedlings which the government gave to farmers under Operation Wealth Creation to increase production in the cocoa growing areas.

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