More in the budget for reporters to milk

By Bernard Tabaire

We have had the first thrust of media coverage of the budget, which was presented on Thursday, 11 June 2014. Some more analysis will undoubtedly follow through the weekend. There may not be a whole lot after that, given that coverage tends to focus mostly on which sector got how much.

Looking carefully at the budget, however, can lead to more useful reportage. Somewhere in his speech, Finance Minister Matia Kasaija outlined specific business and scientific work that the Uganda Industrial Research Institute is doing. He even went off-script to ask the institute head, Prof. Charles Kwesiga, to “stand up for recognition”. By his own admission, the giggly minister said he was taken by excitement. But that is a separate issue.

Journalists could follow up on some of the things the minister mentioned (see quote from budget below). He said, for example, that UIRI had developed a thermo-stable vaccine against Newcastle Disease, the most devastating disease in poultry farming (italics added). And that some 6 million doses had been distributed as a pilot in Mbale, Kibuku, Pallisa, Bukedea, Kumi, and Iganga districts.

Some questions reporters may ask:

  1. How widespread is Newcastle Disease in Uganda?
  2. Who are the researchers behind the vaccine?
  3. Which laboratories do they use?
  4. How long did it take to develop samples that could be used in a pilot?
  5. How did the pilot perform – from the perspective of farmers and researchers?
  6. What next for this vaccine?
  7. What are the scientific/technological and socio-economic implications if the vaccine succeeds and is rolled out countrywide? And if it fails?
  8. What other vaccines are the researchers developing?
  9. Any vaccines that were promising and failed? If so, what lessons?
  10. Where does the funding come from?

The minister also said UIRI is doing neat work incubating businesses. The potato business in Kabale is supporting 450 farmers; the peanut one in Lira is supporting 150; and the mushroom one is supporting 7,000 in several districts in south-western Uganda. Some of these entities have been covered, but more as events after President Museveni launched them. Each of the projects Mr Kasaija lists can potentially form the basis for an independent comprehensive story.

General questions (UIRI)

  1. How does UIRI pick the business ideas to incubate? Isn’t this the equivalent of the government picking winners and losers in the private sector? Some people sneer at this sort of thing. They want free competition in the private sector where those with good business chops win.
  2. Why the focus on agro-processing?
  3. How is incubation transforming the agro-processing sub-sector, if at all?
  4. How does the incubation process actually work? When does a firm graduate from incubation? How does the Makerere Food Technology approach differ, if at all, from the UIRI one.
  5. The minister listed successful or seemingly successful ‘incubatees’. What do the failures look like? At what point is a project declared a failure? What happens next?
  6. What is the future of business incubation in Uganda?
  7. How big is incubation in relation to other programmes at UIRI?
  8. Who funds incubation work at UIRI? By how much?

Specific questions (firms)

  1. Who owns a particular business?
  2. How did he/she get started?
  3. Why resort to incubation instead of simply starting like most: hunt money around to start and get on with it.
  4. How far has the business come? (I bumped into a co-owner of Premier Dairies the day before the budget speech and he said the business was growing steadily – Mega Milk that they make is now found in more and more towns in Uganda.) Is it already profitable? Of course, it is important for the reporter to visit the start-up business he or she is writing about.
  5. Are the farmers actually benefiting from their potatoes, peanut and mushroom growing? If so, how? If not, why not? How do they see things going forward? Would be great to visit and interview them from their communities.


Value Addition and Industrial Development

Madam Speaker, this year, the Uganda Industrial Research Institute has made significant innovations for Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) for adding value to agricultural products and build the economy’s industrial base. These innovations include the following:-

  1. Development of solar dryer prototypes including a wooden solar dryer of 100kg capacity to dry briquettes within 2 days;
  2. Production of several antibiotics including Bacitracin, Nisin, Subtilin, Aspergilic acid, and Surfactin, all of which have useful pharmaceutical applications;
  3. Fabrication of value addition technologies including an energy efficient oven, ceramic bio-gas burner and a soap making machine;
  4. Development of a thermo-stable vaccine against Newcastle Disease Vaccine, a major step in dealing with the most devastating disease in poultry farming. [Under a pilot marketing arrangement, distributed 6 million doses of vaccine against Newcastle disease in Mbale, Kibuku, Palisa, Bukedea, Kumi, and Iganga.]

Madam Speaker, the Uganda Industrial Research Institute has also provided support for the development of the following industries on a business incubation basis:-

  1. Premier Dairies producing pasteurized Mega Milk at 180,000 litres per month;
  2. Kabale potatoes processing and Research facility supporting 450 farmers producing potato chips;
  3. Lira peanut processing and research facility supporting 150 farmers producing at 6.5 tons per month;
  4. Mushroom Training and Research Center serving over 7,000 people in the districts of Kabale, Kisoro, Kanungu, Bushenyi, Kisoro, and Ntungamo;
  5. Pioneered support in the cosmetic industry with Aleosha and Amagara skin care products.
Bernard Tabaire

Bernard Tabaire co-founder and Director of Programmes at African Centre for Media Excellence. He is a former managing editor for weekend editions at the Monitor Publications in Kampala and also a columnist with the Saturday Monitor.

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