By Alex Balimwikungu
Dealers of fresh produce are losing out on the local and international market due to poor quality fruits and vegetables. Their major lament is about the poor hygiene and handling practices, which has caused a scarcity of fresh fruit and vegetables on the Ugandan market.
Though the fresh produce business is lucrative, the filthy conditions under which they operate have chased away potential customers. Nakawa market is one of the bustling markets famed for selling fresh produce.
Until recently, it was a melting pot for a wide range of people who prided in buying fresh produce. It is slowly but steadily losing its core clientele. What was once a market can at best be described as a ‘pig sty’. A hub of houseflies and other vermin rule the place. With the unsightly scenes, traders in tomatoes, oranges, green pepper can only lament as their profits trickle away.
KCCA interested in money
Umar Senkungu, the Secretary for Defence in Nakawa market has witnessed all this rot. He admits that most of the foods are contaminated and not fresh. “Some foods are lain on bare ground, which affects their quality. The situation is worse during the rainy season. The floods make the fresh foods, especially tomatoes to rot very fast,” Senkungu says.
The absence of proper storage facilities and infrastructure can only worsen their woes.
“Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) is mandated to provide these amenities to improve our working conditions, but all they do is to levy money from traders. We are only surviving because the market has a reputation of selling things cheaply,” he explains.
What do vendors say?
The smiles on the faces of some vendors masks the untold suffering they are experiencing. All they can hold on to is hope and survival.
Sofia Achieng, mans a vegetable stall. Everyday, she has to budget for two jerry cans of water to keep her vegetables fresh.
“I water the vegetables so that they can prolong its freshness,” Achieng says.
She explains that to the naked eye, they (vegetables) appear fresh but doubts the taste.
As the day draws on, with no customers in sight, she inevitably reduces the prices but this doesn’t guarantee sales.
“Sometimes the vegetables become so stale, I am embarrassed to sell to anyone. I take them home.”
She has however soldiered on because of her specialization in Ggobe and Malakwang. With a big consuming population from Northern Uganda settled around Nakawa, her business has stayed afloat.
Sandra Nakitende a tomato dealer admits that the scarcity of tomato lately owes to poor handling practices and greedy farmers.
“Farmers who don’t spray their tomatoes make us suffer losses. These tomatoes don’t last long in the market, they easily go bad,” she laments.
This bad practice, coupled with the recent dry spell and lack of irrigation services has affected the business.
How it was before
Previously, she was the toast of the market. She used to make as sh250,000 profit in a day. Her brisk business days were Friday and Saturday, which are the busiest days for civil servants to shop for the weekend. She is lucky to walk away with sh20,000 a day.
Kenya is better
Jane Nakayenga a mango dealer who imports from Kenya has no regrets. She attest to their freshness.
“I import mangoes from Kenya because they can stay fresh for long compared to the mangoes grown in Uganda. They come from far but are better preserved” Nakayenga explains.
She is assured of recouping her money after any investment unlike the Ugandan mangoes, which easily go bad. She sells one mango at 2000shillings and has no regrets.
Poor quality killing Uganda’s fruit market
Uganda has not sufficiently utilized the potential it has to tap into the $1.2 billion global fruits market, information from Uganda Export Promotions Board (UEPB) up to 2008 has shown.
According to the analysis, opportunities for exportation of organic fruits like yellow bananas , including plantains, fresh or dried , pineapples, watermelons and these fruit products are open in the United Kingdom.
Uganda’s major importers of fruits are the United Kingdom. The country exported 947, 641 tonnes of fruits to the United kingdom and got in excess of $2.2 million , Switzerland imported 642 tonnes, 618tonnes and traders earned about $1.8 million and Germany 254097 tonnes, which brought $4 million.
Kenya sells mangoes to Europe
New mango variety developed in Kenya is selling well in Europe, with a large number of exporters from Kenya now selling the fruit variety in the UK, France, Holland, and Switzerland.
So far this year, Kenya has exported more than 5,124 total tonnes of mango, with 90 per cent of these exports destined for Europe. The Middle East has been the country’s second largest export destination after Europe.
The new variety, which comes from a strain of US mango varieties, has been developed by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI).
“The new variety, which is similar to a local variety Ngowe, has also been upgraded from major three US varieties, namely Kent, Atkins and Haden," says Lusike Wasilwa, a mango researcher at the KARI. "It grows faster, meaning it can be picked earlier than most varieties. It matures one month earlier than most mango species."
Analysts say exporters are expected to make better returns by December as the new variety begins its sales in Europe.
Additional Reporting by Emmanuel Luganda, Ashraf Kasirye, Roderick Ahimbazwe, Moses Walugembe, Abdul Kamulegeya and Arthur Oyako