Ugandan Woman Mints Money from Mushrooms

 “Regardless of how humble your idea is, if you believe in it, go ahead and start working on it. Start small, start somewhere!” Merabu Manige, Executive Director, Youth Empowerment in Enterprise Development.
Dreams of a village girl
Merabu Manige was born 29 years ago in a small village in the South Western District of Kabale. Merabu always dreamt of leaving the village to taste the excitement of urban life.
Her big chance came when she finished her high school. She says, “My father told me that he did not have much money to push me further. He explained to me that our district had so much gold which I had to make use of. At the time, I did not understand what gold my father was referring to. Shortly after, my father sold a piece of land and gave me 1 Million Uganda Shillings (about $400).”
Merabu’s father later explained that the gold he was referring to was irish potatoes which is widely grown in Kabale District. Potatoes from Kabale are very popular for their quality. When she realised that she had to make do with the little money she had been given by her father, Merabu decided to venture into potato trading. At this time, she also decided to enrol at Makerere University Kampala to pursue a degree in horticulture.
She explains, “I did not have much money but my father’s words kept on encouraging me on. Besides, I had so many dreams and I knew that the only way I would realise them was by working and studying hard.”
With this conviction, Merabu bought her first stock of three sacks of potatoes. She says, “I would peel the potatoes and hawk them around university halls of residence. I re-invested all the profits and my business grew in leaps and bounds. In less than a year, I was bringing a whole truckload of potatoes to Kampala.”
However, this growth came with its own challenges. The distance from Kabale to Kampala is 338 kilometres. Yet, Merabu had to travel with her potatoes to ensure that the drivers did not cheat her. This sometimes meant sleeping on top of potato sacks.
Fortunately, this soon came to an end when she got a job with an organisation called Agricultural Innovations for Agricultural Development. It is through this organisation that she was introduced to small scale enterprise ideas such as making soap, Vaseline, candles and growing mushrooms among others.
Her interest however, was majorly in mushroom growing. She explains, “I was tasked to train youth groups in mushroom growing. This gave me an opportunity to put into practice what I had learnt in school. Then, I started getting invited for exhibitions and opportunities to train more young people outside the organisation I was serving.”
Starting Youth Empowerment in Enterprise Development (YEED)
She adds, “When I realised the business potential of mushrooms, I developed two guides on mushroom production and other small scale enterprises. I also started mobilising friends of mine to start a company. Unfortunately, many of these told me that I was being over ambitious.
“I talked to my father about my dream and in response he told me that he believed in me and that he was sure that I could make it. Whereas these words lifted my spirit, it was not until i got a small contract with a youth empowerment NGO that I realised the need to start and register a company. The contract was 8 Million UGX (about $3500). In 2011, I quit my job to focus on my company.
“When I was being awarded the contract, the officer from the organisation encouraged me to register my company. He told me that it was easier to attract partnerships as a company than as an individual.”
A few weeks after Merabu registered her company, she was awarded a 12 Million UGX (about $5200) contract. This contract re-affirmed the relevance of her company and she has never looked back.
To date, YEED has trained over 10,000 of youth in small scale enterprises and supported the formation of youth entrepreneurship clubs across the country. Some of those trained a heavily involved in mushroom growing.
Merabu says, “Mushrooms have a high market potential. YEED purchases mushrooms from the farmers and adds value to it. We make mushroom soup, porridge and beverage from the mushrooms. Whereas most of our market is local, we also export to Zambia and Japan.”
Challenges
She explains, “The value chain for mushrooms is not defined. We do not have sufficient information on who and to what magnitude they are involved in the value chain. Sometimes, we lose out on clients because we are unable to accurately project production.
“The other challenge is that of insufficient capital.”
Achievements
Through her work, Merabu has been able to purchase 6 acres of land for a factory. Besides this, she has been recognised in various awards including:
–          Young Achievers Award Vocational Skills in Agriculture 2010
–          Young Achievers Award Leadership and Governance
–          1st Runner-Up Uganda National Council of Science and Technology
–          Recognised as one of the top 30 young CEOs in Africa
Future Prospects
When asked about future prospects, Merabu explains, “Now that i have been able to secure land, I am thinking of major developments like setting up a factory to process our produce. I also plan to set up setting up a vocational institute.”
Merabu further explains, “Right now I am not in position to export my products to large markets due to structural and supply constraints. I am working with other farmers to see how we can address this challenge.”
Advice for Young Entrepreneurs
“I encourage young people to have confidence in their ideas. Regardless of how humble your idea is, if you believe in it, go ahead and start working on it. Start small, start somewhere! I have gone places and achieved so much because I believed and had the courage to start.”
As told by Merabu Manige, Executive Director YEED Uganda.
By Charles Emma Ofwono and Veronique M

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