Fish and Chips: How a Small Business Can Have Big Impact in Rural Uganda

Other Stories from Kabasheshe: Hills of Green | Ghost Water Taps | Money Loans and Satellite Dishes

IMG_3640At the end of a fun weekend, I was driving from Queen Elizabeth National Park back to Kabale. Along with a group of American and Canadian medical and public health students, I was returning from three days filled with safari and boat adventures in Southwestern Uganda. Before our weekend came to a close, we stopped at the Satellite Hotel for lunch. The hotel offers an impressive lookout for travelers along the Mbarara-Kabale Road and its restaurant was advertising a special of Fish and Chips. I jumped on the bandwagon and ordered a plate.

Fast forward two weeks and now I’m standing next to the pond where the fish I ate was raised. This fish breeding pond – one of four – is part of a business called Satellite Farmers Limited, located at the junction to Kabasheshe in the Ntungamo district. I originally decided to come here to see and learn about their first farms, but I ended up leaving with a much better understanding of how this small enterprise was playing a big role in the community.

My tour guide and teacher would be Godrey, a 20-year-old secondary school student, who was in charge of this facility. As we talked (or, more accurately, as I continually asked questions) he began to open up and seemed excited to share his work with me.

We started outdoors, walking along the trail that connects the fish ponds. Some filled with catfish and others of an unknown kind, these ponds were dug and filled only six months ago, but already had thousands of fish. To help me see their scope, as the water was murky and hid what lay underneath, Godrey went into the green, aluminum building nearer to the road to grab some feed. He threw it into the water and little mouths started to appear. Above the water were lines, closing each other in a grid formation and about 12 inches apart. These lines are used to prevent birds, which are abundant, from flying down and stealing a meal.

On top of the fish sold to the hotel down the road, Satellite Farmers Limited sells local eggs, handheld sprayers, building materials, and the animal feed (mostly for chickens and pigs) that Godfrey used earlier. But catfish are special. Instead of regular feed, they are given meat, chicken to be exact. I was fortunate to see a farmer come in and leave a bucket of future fish food. The blue plastic bucket contained slurry of meat byproduct. The innards of a chicken – heart, lungs, intestines – that people don’t consume and farmers can’t use can be brought here and sold, adding to their income and maximizing the usefulness of a single chicken.

Speaking of chickens, they have those too, both layers and broilers. Layers are the hens that produce eggs, while a broiler is a chicken raised for just the meat. An egg here sells for 250# (250 shillings, or 10 US cents), while the same egg at the rural market would sell for 400#. Say you’re the head of a household and you were looking for an affordable source of protein, this would be your best place to start. Or, if you are a market seller and looking for something to sell, this place could be your supplier, where you can buy and then sell eggs, making 150# profit on each one; you wouldn’t even need to own a chicken.

Godrey led me inside the Feed Mill, which has been in the community for over two years and was started by a man simply known as Chief.

“Who else works here?” I asked Godfrey, as we passed through the doors. “No one”, he responded, “just me.” I was perplexed. The feed mill is massive. It is similar to something I would find back home in Rural Canada. Inside, there were bags everywhere. Scales for weighing, office desks to handle paperwork, and an unorganized stack of water troughs in the corner took up more space inside this building.

It turns out that Godrey is the only full-time employee of the operation, selling eggs, equipment and bags of feed, and feeding the fish as needed. When animal feed needs to be mixed, he goes to the local trading center and hires up to five temporary workers. Together, they can produce one to two tons of feed each hour. This high level of productivity is probably the reason why Godrey can manage everything alone.

The animal feed they manufacture consists of various elements, including silverfish, maize bran, broken maize, cotton cake, shells, sunflower, and calcium. Some are sourced locally, while other bags come from the capital of Kampala. In either case, the concrete floor where these bags are tossed provides another destination for farmers to bring their grains.

It might not seem like much, but in a country where youth unemployment can reach 80%, it is nice to see a successful and growing business that is providing full- and part-time jobs to local residents. Not only that, they are providing tools to farmers to maximize their productivity and earn more, all within walking distance from their fields. Additionally, Satellite Farmers Limited is acting as a link from rural farmers, buying their excess grains, to outside markets, meaning a greatly level of economic stability in this community of a few thousand low-income farmers.

I left by thanking Godrey for his time and sharing so much knowledge with me. I also bought some eggs; it was too good of a bargain not to. This small business, invisible from the paved main roads, in Southwestern Uganda is quietly achieving what so many educated experts have failed to do – foster employment, assist farmers, and grow the local economy.

If you’re interesting in learning more about businesses in emerging markets or innovations in rural agriculture, feel free to contact myself. Questions are welcome and encouraged.


First Week in Ghana

After an 11 hour plane flight to Accra and a 4 hour time zone change, my body’s normal sleep pattern sure did take a wallop. For the first week in country, I was involved in a lot of activities, including logistics, travel, and training for my placement.

I only stayed in Accra for 2 days (July 30-31) whereby I went on a scavenger hunt to experience the sights and sounds of the city and learn the local customs of Ghana. While at the market, I picked up some traditional African cloth (2 yards) that can be taken to a tailor to make a shirt and some small souvenirs. Thanks to the people I went there with, 2 staff from the guesthouse and 2 other Professional Fellows, I was able to experience the beauty of the Atlantic Ocean which was effortlessly tucked behind the market.

One amazing thing about Accra is the wide variety of shopping options. It has the big shopping malls common to most Westerners. But there is also a whole gambit of roadside vendors selling tons of amazing food. These are amazing examples of entrepreneurship in action.

One final form of retail, which it sometimes crazy, is the inter-traffic, car-to-car salesmen. These are people who walk through traffic carrying their goods (water, cell phone credits, electronics, bath essential, or anything else you may need) and sell through your car’s rolled down windows. It can be quite hectic when you combine the fact you may have to barter on the price and that traffic isn’t at a standstill forever, causing a lot of running on their part.

Next stop: Tamale. 

Bus company: STC. 

Duration: 13 hours.

Along the bus ride from Accra to Tamale, with a stop in Kumasi, I saw some amazing villages and the beauty of Ghana that I`ve been hearing for a long time. It was quite refreshing to get away from the traffic congestion of the big city and see what lies beyond.

I also experienced some cultural differences while on the road. Like the road side urinals (10 peswas) or toilets (30 peswas). Running water is sometimes a problem, so make sure to bring a bucket of water before you hit the john.

There is also a swarm of vendors trying to sell you food every time you stop in a community. Fish, fried yams, apples, ground nuts, and the ever important bagged water.

Note: the Ghana cedi is trading at approximately 2 GHC to 1 CAD. And their are 100 peswas per cedi.

To give you some context of my travels, I’ve included the map below of Ghana. It is colored coded by the 10 different government regions. These regions are further broken up into districts, totaling 212 overall. The bulk of my team’s work involves the Northern Region, so it is no surprise that the district I am slowly making my way to is located. Have a little bit of fun and try to find Bole – my final resting place.

Peace out.