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Setting pace for produce exports

By Agnes E. Nantaba

James Kanyije (PhD) is the CEO of KK Fresh Produce Exporters. He spoke to Agnes E. Nantaba about their operations and other pertinent issues in the food industry.

What are the key elements in your management style as a manager?

Hard work, professionalism and trust are part of me. They are a must for a company like this to stand the test of time although good knowledge of food science and agronomy is also paramount. I am a PhD holder in business administration, which makes management easier.  In terms of work execution, I am a hands-on manager who prefers to get involved in work on ground and delegate where necessary to achieve the best results. I don’t just sit to wait for answers but want to be part of the team to achieve the goals.

What does it take to start and manage an own enterprise successfully?

Risk taking, trust, faith and understanding of the business model is part of the price for starting a business. You must also be trusted by those you plan to serve. Resources like capital are mandatory but at the end of the day you might have the capital and fail to put it to good use.  Building and sustaining a business is a day-in, day-out battle between uncertainty and willpower. Your ability to persevere through prolonged periods of risk and manage the stress that comes with it is as important to your company’s survival, as well as your own, as any business decision you’ll have to make along the way.

What is your share of the market in the fruits and vegetable exports from Uganda?

We are currently doing 70 tonnes per week which we expect to grow to 100 tonnes in the near future. We export all fruits ranging from avocado, bird eyed chili, sweet potatoes, apple bananas, matooke, African egg plant, sugar cane and other spices.

What is your assessment of the performance of the fruits and vegetable exports sub-sector in Uganda?

We are coming from zero and still at zero because we don’t have a focused system in place. Exporting fruits and vegetables can succeed where there is infrastructure. It is expensive for private players to set up a collecting centre and pack house in a region. As a country without a cargo airline that would subsidize for the exporters like the case is in Ethiopia, we cannot do much. Never the less, as private investors we are working towards bridging those gaps to grow and develop the sector.

KK Fresh Produce Exporters aims at branding Uganda as a reliable supplier of quality fresh produce. How far have you gone in executing this?

We have employed technical staff especially agronomists in the field who know how best to grow and harvest a good crop. We are also into processing and value addition to products that may not pass the standards such as those that are over-ripe in order to benefit the farmers because they invest a lot.

How big was the magnitude on Ugandan producers of the self-imposed export ban to EU?

The impact was and is still huge to the exporters because the people who imposed the self ban are not even exporters. Pests are a national concern, which should be handled at such a level by the government. We have never stopped exporting even during the one month when the ban was self imposed. No country can ban exports yet others are yearning to penetrate that same market, the best solution would be to solve the problem so that exporters are encouraged.  Uganda Exports Promotion Board (UEPB) has performed its role of promoting exports. Banning exports makes farmers suffer losses from their produce.

The horticultural industry is looked at as one of the most- promising areas for export diversification. What is your strategy towards actualizing this?

It is true; the industry is one of the biggest and promising in Uganda but it lacks an agenda for what do. For instance there is an incubation centre at Makerere University and UIRI, but they have not done much to draft an agenda for the sector.

Poor post-harvest practices are major contributors to reduction in produce quality and shelf life. How do you work to minimize such losses?

We are setting up the infrastructure of cold chain to reduce the postharvest losses. In the dry season losses are lowest, because produce is in small quantities and it’s competitive in all the markets unlike in the rainy season. We are working hard to have cold chains from the fields to the markets. Generally post harvest losses are standing at 40% up from 20%, which calls for collaborative efforts.

What other challenges constrain the development of the horticultural sub-sector in Uganda?

This is a an upcoming sector to substitute exports of traditional crops but it’s also promising in view of the climate and land we have although it has not been accorded the necessary attention. For instance considering the focus of NAADS, horticulture is not featured anywhere like other areas.  The rate of return for horticultural products is very high but government attention is needed in terms of training and involving the farmers to double the returns. It is also key to ensure that the seeds and chemicals or pesticides on the market are certified not to cause more harm.

What is your reading of the horticultural industry in Uganda in the next few years?

It will be based on individual enterprise unless government changes its interventions, which will slow down the rate of growth. The future of the industry is dependent on the role of government. There is too much duplication of roles on who does what and when amongst UNBS, Ministry of Agriculture, UEPB.

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