Women entrepreneurs empowered through beans – Christella, Sheila

Sheila Alumo, East Africa Development Company, Uganda

Sheila Alumo is the Managing Director of the Eastern Agricultural Development Company Ltd (EADCL) in Soroti town of Eastern Uganda. She is passionate about investing in affordable and yet nutritious products. A lawyer by training, Sheila found her passion in social entrepreneurship. She worked the city life and decided that she had had enough of it. She wanted to work with rural populations, to contribute to their livelihood improvements, in particular, improve nutrition. She chose to start a factory in her home town, in eastern Uganda. She chose to invest in nutrient-rich products only, and her crops of choice were high iron beans, that had recently been released by National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) in partnership with PABRA in Uganda in 2018 and orange flesh sweet potatoes that are rich in vitamin A. She aims to process nutrient-rich flour combining both higher iron bean and orange flesh sweet potatoes (provit A) flours.

Through its agricultural business, EADCL is pursuing improved socio-economic and human development of rural smallholder farmers who are the growers of its products. The company has a network of 3,117 farmers, 40% of whom are women, from Bugisu, Karamoja and Teso regions of Uganda covering five districts that feed into its production supply chain. She says she is in the business of supporting farmers and trading in nutritious products to reduce the plight of Uganda’s malnutrition deficiencies.  Sheila decided to collaborate with the bean programme at NARO when she learned of the newly released high iron sugar bean in Uganda in early 2019. She started off with 2.2 tons of the seed of the variety and worked with producers.

Though the company is actively working with 1,800 producers, it intends to grow the numbers to 3,000 by the end of 2020 and sees itself working with more than 8,000 producers in the medium term. In fact, to make it easier to work with the bean and potato producers, Sheila has introduced the use of a digital payment system in collaboration with ABC- PABRA and MasterCard to make it easier to buy from and pay the producers. The trial with the platform was quite successful, she will have it in her operation model especially to promote trade and financial inclusion of her women farmers.

Sheila has entered into an agreement with more than 20 producer cooperatives in eastern Uganda, to raise volumes of bean produce and ensure enough quantities for processing and enough to export and sell.

She sees herself contributing substantially to the development of a bean corridor in eastern Uganda; a region she feels has not been well attended to.

In the future, Sheila wants to expand her investment beyond bean flour to other bean-based products. She intends to go into precooked bean processing, value addition to hitherto low value-added beans is what will create the most value for her and those she works with, she says.

Sheila has entered into an agreement with more than 20 producer cooperatives in eastern Uganda, to raise volumes of bean produce and ensure enough quantities for processing and enough to export and sell.

She sees herself contributing substantially to the development of a bean corridor in eastern Uganda; a region she feels has not been well attended to.

In the future, Sheila wants to expand her investment beyond bean flour to other bean-based products. She intends to go into precooked bean processing, value addition to hitherto low value-added beans is what will create the most value for her and those she works with, she says.

Christella Ndayishimiye, Totahara Ltd, Bean processor, Burundi

Having been trained in office secretariat, Christella Ndayishimiye started processing bean porridge flour out of an urgent need! She was weaning her baby and she could not find the right flour for her. This drove her to start mixing her own bean-based composite flour in order to meet the baby’s nutritional needs. The baby grew very healthy and strong. This triggered her idea that gave rise to Totahara.

Christella is the proprietor of Totahara, one of the premier bean composite flour processors in Burundi. She has been processing bean flour for households and organizations in Burundi and DRC for over ten years now.  Of recent, much has changed in her business.

Christella,(wearing glasses on the left) visiting one other Totahara sellers in Bujumbura. Looking on are some of the women she works with.

The business started as a cottage industry working from her backyard and using an open fireplace to roast the beans and polythene bags to dry the ingredients in Bujumbura (see left photo below). The business has grown exponentially because of consistently reinvesting profits in the business.  She recently upgraded her facilities with state-of-the-art, efficient modern technologies, as a result of increased businesses and ABC-PABRA advisory support on business development plan/skills, linkages to grain producers, and exposure tours.  The new machines roast, mill, mix up and pack the composite ingredients for the bean flour. The new equipment will not only ensure the quantity is optimizing, but the quality of the product will be guaranteed.

This has helped her to develop and distribute nutritious bean flour suitable for children and women in Burundi and neighboring DR Congo and Rwanda, thus contributing to addressing income and nutrition concerns in the region.

Her processing firm has seen volumes grow from one ton per month in the initial stages to more than 17 tons of composite bean flour per month, and the demand is growing. This provides market opportunities to more than 1,250 farmers.  She is working with 16 employees at the factory, four are women and four are youth operating the machines. She distributes her products to 15 wholesale outlet shops and non-governmental organizations in Burundi, 10 outlet traders in DR Congo, and 2 traders in Rwanda. She also supplies bean-based flour in partnership with World Vision who runs crèche programmes for children under 5. With this expansion, it only means that the demand for Totahara flour is growing. She has also mentored five other bean flour processors in the country to start their own bean processing business. This is creating employment not only to the owners, but also those who will assist in the processing. Totahara is contributing to an emerging bean value-added industry in Burundi, with affordable nutrient-rich products. Christella sees herself as an investor in beans, a niche she has consistently invested in, and sees herself growing further in the future, who will supply products to other neighboring countries. This will be possible with new machines since her target is to reach 110 tons per month at the end of year five.

  

Ms. Christella (on the left) roasting the ingredients of the bean composite Totahara, On the right is state of the art machine she recently acquired that sorts, grinds and mixes the flour and calibrated ready for packaging.

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