Bendicta Nanyonga, the founder and head of the Kinawataka Women Initiative (KWI), tells a story of triumph.
It is a story of how they penetrated into the international market, and made a name for themselves. Kinawataka women make crafts such as handbags, sports bags, belts, purses, table mats, doormats and earrings, from used straws.
“People outside Uganda value recycling. And if you have crafts, your market is readily available,” Nanyonga says.
On their first attempt to export their products to UK, they were asked for 10,000 packages of bags, doormats, belts and others.
“We were overwhelmed; we couldn’t raise that much,” she narrates. It is then that they started boosting their production. And in months, they were ready to export to the UK, Germany, Italy, USA, Kenya and Rwanda, among other countries.
Last week at the business expo at UMA grounds, Nanyonga’s stall attracted the biggest number of guests.
“The products are just inviting; you can’t pass by her without asking how they are made,” one of the guests said.
But not everyone has been as lucky as the women from Kinawataka. At the expo, organised by the Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU) under the theme, How to export to Europe, traders discussed the challenges they face when they export to Europe.
The traders pointed out a range of challenges: poor infrastructure, the challenge to raise the required volumes and quality of products, high initial costs of operation, limited access to cheaper credit facilities, and high energy costs, among others.
In his book, A Good African story; how a small company built a global coffee brand, Andrew Rugasira, talks of how he made numerous trips to Europe and endless calls to a number of high-profile officials in Uganda’s government, including President Museveni and the Central Bank governor Tumusiime-Mutebile, in order to have his coffee make it to the shelves of European supermarkets.
“I was able to access the Uganda Export Credit guarantee Scheme (ECGS)…[to get the Central bank’s approval], I decided to seek an audience with him [Mutebile] at his home in Kololo…,” wrote Rugasira.
Amelia Kyambadde, the minister of Trade, Industry and cooperatives, agrees there are a number of challenges that need to be sorted out, although she advises traders to first work on the basics such as presentation and marketing as a step towards tapping international markets.
“I want you to be cautious. The way you present yourself matters,” she told traders at the expo.
“Today, the business community is so competitive and the sooner the businesspeople learnt the basics of marketing, the better. We need to improve the ways we do business,” Kyambadde advised.
“government has negotiated with some countries including Rwanda, China, Italy, and India (to facilitate easier entry of Ugandan goods). We are still negotiating with the EU so that they can accept our products,” she said.
“Government is also finding a way of giving a contribution to some of the traders who have been subjected to mistreatment [and lost their goods] in South Sudan,” Kyambadde said.
PSFU Executive Director Gideon Badagawa said what the traders needed now was the market information about demand for their products.