Profit-making idea: The organic food value chain in Uganda – from growing to processing

Shares Uganda's processing facility outside the capital Kampala.

Shares Uganda’s processing facility outside the capital Kampala.

The global organic food market is expected to grow at 14.59% per annum to reach $368.94 billion by 2026, according to a report from Reportlinker.

Tapping into this market presents significant opportunities to agribusiness companies that can put in place the correct systems and support to serve this growing demand. In Africa, Marck van Esch sees specific potential for Uganda. “It is the fastest-growing sector in agriculture worldwide. Even during Covid-19, the market remained strong,” he says.

Van Esch’s company, Shares Uganda Limited, contracts farmers in the country to grow organic bird’s eye chillies, chia and sesame for export to Europe. Additionally, he lists sunflower seeds, beans and fruits as organic items in demand and suited for production in Uganda.

One of the main challenges for organic production in the country is the detrimental impact of the government’s indoor residual spraying (IRS) programme used to combat malaria. If the chemicals are sprayed inside the huts where farmers store their crops, it could lead to cross-contamination that would result in the loss of the buyer’s organic certification.

Shares Uganda has had to move its contract farming hub twice over the years when the IRS programme was deployed in its area of operations.

“So, while there is demand for organic farming, it is not protected and many small-scale farmers, and even larger farms, could miss out on the opportunity,” explains Van Esch.

The key is to build local capacity to add value to the organic agricultural commodities before export.

“Most of the final processed organic products that consumers eat, come from the western world. African countries are hardly producing any end-products that are certified organic and, when they do, it is often aimed at their domestic markets,” he says.

Van Esch recommends starting with partial processing until the factories can meet the required standards and then scale up.

To achieve success with such a business venture, one has to be pragmatic and flexible but also persistent, says Van Esch.

“You have to really believe in what you want, hold on to your vision and not compromise on business ethics, quality and maintenance. This is how you distinguish yourself from other suppliers. When you start, make sure you have everything in place; the management, the quality systems and the infrastructure. Do not promise something you cannot deliver and then disappoint your buyers and yourself.”