Adding value: Pumpkins turn a profit for young farmers in Uganda

Byeffe Foods Company is working with a network of over 5,000 young farmers in Uganda to produce value-added, nutritious pumpkin products which are sold across the country.

Byeffe Foods Company is supplying nutritious pumpkin products to schools, hospitals and supermarkets across Uganda © HetepRakhepr Seker Ulerie

Fatuma Namutosi was 24 years old when she started Byeffe Foods Company (byeffe meaning ‘ours’) in western Uganda in 2015 to address the high levels of malnutrition in her country. The company now produces 20 t of nutritious pumpkin-based products annually, such as flours and seed snacks, which are supplied to schools, hospitals and supermarkets across the region.

After a year spent researching crops that are both easy to grow and nutritious for consumers, Namutosi set up Byeffe Foods Company with an initial capital of USh 500,000 (€114). Her research revealed that pumpkins are grown by most households, and contain a higher level of antioxidants, proteins and vitamins than most vegetables. The leaves can also be boiled and eaten to provide a good source of dietary fiber, protein and vitamins A and E.

In order to initially identify local farmers to supply her company, Namutosi worked with USAID’s Feed the Future Uganda programme. With the support of the programme, Byeffe Foods trained over 5,000 young farmers in pumpkin production and provided them with seeds to ensure quality control. In 2016, Byeffe participated in a Feed the Future Youth Leadership for Agriculture event to promote the company’s business model and products, which led to their partnership with primary schools in the country to supply flour containing zinc and vitamin A.

Due to high demand for the healthy products and Byeffe’s limited supply of fresh pumpkins, Feed the Future mobilised an additional 1,280 young contract farmers to work with the company. With low production costs and high yields – on average, 1 ha of pumpkins produces between 15,000 and 30,000 kg of pumpkin heads – as well as Byeffe’s commitment to provide seeds and extension services, the youth were eager to assist. To produce 1 kg of dry flour requires 10 kg of fresh pumpkins and Byeffe purchases 1 kg of pumpkins from its farmers for USh 300 (€0.07). The pumpkins are then solar dried and milled to produce flour which is packed in 500 g or 1 kg bags – the latter being sold for USh 4,000 (€0.9).

Byeffe Foods produces gluten-free pumpkin flours blended with soya and millet, as well as pumpkin leaves and seeds and is currently generating €515,000 annually in sales to schools and supermarkets, and directly to customers. Namutosi aims to expand her network of farmers to produce 50 t of pumpkin products by the end of 2018. “We do not have the capacity to feed the whole country yet and that’s why we need to expand our partnership [with farmers], and build our own production plant,” says Namutosi. The company is now in the final stages of being certified by Uganda’s Bureau of Standards, which will allow them to penetrate new markets for other high-value pumpkin-based products including wine, juice, and pumpkin seed oil.

Pius Sawa

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.