Not long ago, Dorothy Mugabe had more bananas than she knew what to do with. Ms. Mugabe grows bananas, along with coffee and plantain, on her 20-acre farm in the Lyantonde District of central Uganda. At times, her banana harvest was so abundant that she could not sell it fast enough. Some of the fruit would go to waste.It was a problem faced by many Ugandan fruit and vegetable farmers. Poor transportation infrastructure makes it hard to ship fresh produce to distant markets. And since the country has no glass manufacturing or canning facilities, there are few opportunities to preserve fruits and vegetables.
This is where the innovation and entrepreneurship of Ugandan Angelo Ndyaguma and Brit Adam Brett came in. The pair established Fruits of the Nile – a company that harnessed the power of the sun and changed the lives of many Ugandans. Now the company has been recognized as a global pioneer for its use of solar energy, being named a finalist for the prestigious Ashden Awards for sustainable energy.
Angelo Ndyaguma is co-founder of Fruits of the Nile. He spoke to Farm Radio from London, England, where the grand prize for green energy will be awarded this week. Mr. Ndyaguma explained that his company began by creating easy-to-construct solar dryers. The drying racks are created with local timber. Locally available mosquito netting protects the fruit from bugs. A special plastic wrap, which filters out harsh UV rays and keeps fruit from turning black as it dries, is the only imported element in the dryers.
The pair held a series of workshops for local farmers, showing them how to use the solar dryers and prepare dried fruit to meet market standards. Farmers can purchase solar dryers at cost and access small loans to pay for them.
Today, 700 farmers from villages across south, southwest, and central Uganda supply fresh fruit for solar dryer operations. Dried bananas, pineapples, papaya, and chillies from Fruits of the Nile are sold within Uganda and shipped to Europe.
Ms. Mugabe dries between 200 and 300 kilograms of bananas for Fruits of the Nile each month. This bounty of dried fruit earns her about 750,000 Uganda shillings, the equivalent of about 500 American dollars or 300 Euros. The farmer boasts that this income allows her to care for five children and send them all to school.
Mr. Ndyaguma and his business partner are reaping sweet rewards as well. As one of only seven international finalists for the global green energy award, his company will receive a prize of 20,000 British pounds, the equivalent of 65 million Ugandan shillings (almost 40,000 American dollars or 25,000 Euros). One of the finalists will be named “energy champion” and receive a grand prize of 40,000 British pounds.