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Nadir set to turn Uganda into spice basket

By Vision Reporter

Added 23rd February 2009 03:00 AM

Every day, for the next few months, The New Vision will run a series of stories on wealth-creation role models from all over the country for Ugandans who would like to learn from them to generate wealth from our natural resources

Every day, for the next few months, The New Vision will run a series of stories on wealth-creation role models from all over the country for Ugandans who would like to learn from them to generate wealth from our natural resources

Every day, for the next few months, The New Vision will run a series of stories on wealth-creation role models from all over the country for Ugandans who would like to learn from them to generate wealth from our natural resources

By John Kasozi
To some people, dreams are just that — mental pictures of what things should be. Yet, to this Hoima-born, Mukono-based farmer and agro-processor, a dream is a vision that must be achieved. And, he is already far deep into achieving his dream: “Uganda is set to become the world’s spice basket,” says Mansoor Nadir, with a lot of determination.

Nadir is the general manager of Uganda Crop Industrial Limited (UCIL), commonly known as Sezibwa Estate. “We are growing a variety of spices and shall soon surpass Zanzibar, the world’s leading exporter of spices,” he asserts.

UCIL was the first enterprise in Uganda to introduce Mukono farmers to cardamom and black pepper (king of spices) growing, though the former was already being grown in the district at a small scale.

“We are also planning to introduce cinnamon and cloves and, God willing, we shall surpass Zanzibar.”

Sezibwa Estate is in Mukono district. The family-run agricultural enterprise was founded in 1993 with the purpose of growing sugarcanes on 600 acres of land. The sugarcane were sold to Mehta.

In 1995, a small sugar-milling plant was set up. The plant started by crushing jaggery (Sukali gulu). They also started growing vanilla.

In 2002 they started growing cardamom, and the following year, an out-growers scheme kicked off. However, in 2006, Nadir says, production of raw organic sugar took the centre-stage. “Our sugar is natural, free of chemicals and has double sweetness with no side-effects. We use an open system in the processing. The whole production process takes seven days after crushing the canes, unlike the chemical process which takes 24 hours,” Nadir explains.

Nadir proudly says worldwide the demand for Sezibwa organic sugar is on the increase. “This year we shall begin by exporting to Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Europe.

“Our breakthrough was when we undertook value addition on our agricultural produce. Value addition is the cradle for wealth. That is where money is,” he asserts.

“We now process all our crops. You lose a lot when you do not process your produce. In addition to revenue from our processed products, we retain the by-products which we use as manure. With value addition, you are sure to remain in business,” he says.

Nadir says they went for cardamom, vanilla and black pepper to give the farm a strong foundation. “The market for these spices is guaranteed. They are on demand in the Middle East, Far East and some European countries.”

Their cardamom occupies four acres, black pepper 10 acres, and vanilla 32 acres of land. All these three spices can be intercropped. Vanilla and black pepper are climbers while cardamom thrives well under tree shades on the same plantation. They also do well under a coffee plantation.

Nadir says they introduced cardamom after a fall in the vanilla prices and other commodities. “There was need to diversify. It complemented the small vanilla plantations and helped sustain incomes.”

“We got cardamom planting materials from South India. The materials were tested and selected under Ugandan environmental conditions. The plant takes two-and-half to three years to mature,” he explains.

Since the inception of the project, the planted stock of cardamom in Uganda has continued to grow and today, almost 2,000 farmers across the country grow cardamom. “The harvested product has high quality, exceptionally fine aroma and a high concentration of essential oils,” Nadir says.

He says they export about 3 tonnes of cardamom per year but they are targeting 100 tonnes by 2012. “We have invested a lot of money to bring cardamom to the level it is today.”

Currently, Sezibwa offers sh1,500 to sh2,000 for a kilogram of fresh cardamom and sh8,000 to sh10,000 per kilo of dry or processed cardamom. In Europe, cardamom is put in wine and coffee.

Black pepper was introduced to the farm in 2003. The crop takes about five years to mature. Last year, Sezibwa exported 2 tonnes of dry organic black pepper. “I am reaching out to more out-growers anticipating that in 2012, we shall export about 15 tonnes. We offer sh2,000 to sh4,000 for one kilogramme of green or fresh black pepper and sh20,000 to 30,000 for processed,” Nadir says.

Although vanilla has been grown in Uganda since the 1950s, it is in the past few years that the crop has become an important commercial export.

Vanilla export in Uganda recovered from a fall in 2006 by 30%, from $4.8m (about sh9b) in 2006 to $6.2m (about sh12b) in 2007. Volumes rose by 116% from 195 tonnes in 2006 to 422 tonnes in 2007, according to the Strategic Market Forecast for Uganda’s Export Products, 2008. “Ugandan vanilla has begun to make a mark on world market, capable of competing with that from the best vanilla producers in the traditional regions,” explains Nadir. With its characteristic aroma, Ugandan vanilla is now sought after, either as a stand-alone or to complement and enhance other vanilla formulations.

Sezibwa is the leading producer and exporter of organic vanilla In Uganda today. The estate also has a network of several hundred small-holder farmers who grow and supply the crop.

The estate has out-growers in Bundibugyo and Kyenjojo districts, growing cardamom and black pepper on conventional basis. Some of the 3,000 out-growers in the three districts, including Mukono, practise organic farming. They are divided in groups of 20 to 35 under parishes.

Nadir says this year, they will offer about sh3,000 per kilogram of organic vanilla and sh1,000 to sh2,000 a kilo of conventional vanilla. “Last year farmers received sh5,000 for a kilogram of organic vanilla and sh2,000 to sh3,000 for a kilo of conventional.”

He adds that last year’s season, Madagascar had a bumper production of vanilla at about 1,500 tonnes, while Uganda had about 225 tonnes.

Seven kilograms of green vanilla make one kilogram of dry or processed vanilla while five kilogram of black pepper and cardamom make one dry kilogram of each

In 2006, Sezibwa Estate took on organic farming under certification by the International Organic Movement based in Switzerland. They have 300 organic certified out-growers in Mukono district, of which more than half are women.

“We trained all our out-growers, equip them with agro-inputs, tools and also commit ourselves to buy their produce at the best price,” says Nadir.

He says they employ 270 permanent and 150 seasonal workers whereby 70% of them women. “Women have proved to be more hard-working and reliable than men. It is only in sugarcane cutting where men are the majority.”

The communities around have a cordial relationship with the estate. As their social responsibility, every year the estate pays school fees for the children whose parents excel at work.

The estate uses all kinds of farming tools to open up their land ranging from hoes, rakes and tractors. They also practise irrigation.

Nadir says anyone willing to grow these spices is welcome. “But we have to train them first, visit their fields to see whether the requirements are in place or if not, what can be done to put them in place.”

A seedling of cardamom costs sh500, but if bought in bulk or by a group, the price goes down to sh300, save for estate’s registered out-growers who get the seedlings free-of-charge. A black pepper seedling costs sh1,000.

Tree seedlings like Albizia coriaria, Musizi and glicidia are given free to estate’s out-growers to promote agro-forestry and re-afforestation. Twenty-five acres of land are under Musizi, pine, mahogany, silver oak and Elgon teak.

The estate also planted 200,000 eucalyptus trees in 1994. “They have now reached maturity. We planted them to get timber for construction.”

Sezibwa has introduced low-altitude commercial Arabica coffee varieties in Mukono. Farmers have also replanted their old coffee plantations with the new clonal coffee that gives higher yields and is more disease-resistant.

The company conducts trials of new and experimental non-traditional and high-value crops. They operate a modern fully-irrigated plant nursery and keep 25 head of cattle and an organic composite operation.

“All the developments on the estate have been undertaken by the family without any help from the Government. But we would like to see the Government, the National Agriculture Advisory Services and the National Agriculture Research Organisation come in to research on pests and disease control,” Nadir pleads.

“They are always holding workshops and seminars in Kampala, which do not benefit our farmers down in the rural areas. How does a farmer who should be the main recipient of the information benefit from these workshops?” he asks.

Some of the biggest challenges the estate faces are poor roads and other communication facilities to enable them reach out to farmers, labourforce, bad weather like hailstorms and drought, and unreliable power supply.

They maintain some of the roads themselves. Nadir says labour is such a big problem that most commercial farms are relying on labour force from outside countries.

Fact file
-Name: Mansoor Nadir
-Location of farm: Ssezibwa, Mukono district
-Enterprise: Spices (cardamom, vanilla, black pepper)

-How they started: With 600 acres of sugarcane in 1993 which they sold to Mehta. Also started growing vanilla. In 2002 they started growing cardamom

-Sales record: Export 3 tonnes of cardamon per year. Last year they exported to tonnes of organic dry black pepper. Leading exporter of orrganic vanilla

-Strongest point: Value addition
-Contact: Mansoor Nadir, 0772 733364

Nadir set to turn Uganda into spice basket

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