Dr Nambatya, the female entrepreneur who has turned bio-slurry into an export commodity
Today we provide a spotlight to Dr Nambatya from Uganda. She has been able to diversify her family's farming business and now exports 8,000 litres of bio-slurry annually. It all started when she connected with the SNV Africa Biogas Partnership Programme (funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
Tell us about your journey into business and how you started exporting bio-slurry
My journey into urban farming and biogas use started in 2010. At the time I was working with the Ministry of Finance and earning very little money. My husband, a medical doctor was also earning very little from his profession and we were really struggling to make ends meet. When we got married, our parents gave us cows as a wedding gift and we brought them to our home in the outskirts of Kampala where we had built our house. We figured we could take care of the cows since we had space in our compound. However keeping cows in an urban area soon became very challenging even with our half acre of land because of the cow dung which attracted lots of flies.
We decided to dig small pits to stow the cow dung. Within a period of 6 months, our entire compound was full of cow dung pits to the extent that wherever you would step your shoe would sink into cow dung. Suddenly rearing cows in an urban setting started to look unattractive and we began to consider finding a bigger piece of land upcountry to move the cows. However we were already financially strained and could not afford to move the cows. It was during this time that my husband met a colleague who told him about the SNV biogas programme that was offering biogas plants to farmers who were able to meet the cost of the construction materials (bricks, cement etc.) and the programme would pay labour fees for the masons and the biogas appliances. We were very excited. We collected the materials and dug the pit and the SNV team sent the engineers to construct the biodigester. When all that was done, we had gas for cooking and lighting. I switched off my LPG and started using my biogas fully. This reduced my expenditure by UGX 110,000 (€30) and my electricity bill lowered also as I now had biogas for lighting.
Another challenge we had not foreseen soon emerged, bio-digester produces slurry. Because we couldn't dispose it, it started flowing out of our gate to the neighbour’s compounds and the neighbours began to complain. We tried reaching out to the big farmers about using the slurry in their gardens but none of them wanted to buy it. One day we visited Dr Jolly Kabirizi who is a principal scientist with NARO and our eyes opened. From her we learnt that we could use bio slurry as an organic fertilizer and in feeds for cows or poultry. But what resonated most with me was the idea of making bio-compost. We came back and started experimenting with the ideas we had gleaned from her. Dr Jolly advised us to go to the Lab and test our bio-compost. We took our bio-compost to the national water lab where we got the components right and started our journey of packing our slurry and selling it.
Part of our work also involves training men, women, and youth in urban farming. One day, a colleague of mine called and told me of a team from Rwanda that was coming to Uganda and wanted them to visit our urban farm. They loved everything on our farm, especially the bio-slurry and how we were packaging it. They bought samples and after a week, they ordered for 10 twenty litre jerricans of bio-slurry and their orders kept growing until they made an order for 200 jerricans in 2014. My capacity by then was only 100 jerricans per year. Because I had a full time job, I could not take on the entire order so we amended it to 150 jerricans which I decided to outsource so as to meet their order. This almost cost me my export certificate because the outsourced slurry turned out to be of poor quality. The government agency were gracious and we agreed on new terms and business picked up once again. Today we export 400 twenty litre jerricans (8,000 litres) of bio-slurry annually.
What do you to use to make your organic bio-slurry fertiliser
When we had just started we would pack and sell the bio-slurry raw. When my husband travelled to Nigeria he found people there that were producing slurry and adding in other organic matter. He came back with a shrub which we are now growing on 15 acres. This is what we add to our bio-compost along with local shrubs like mululuza (bitterleaf), Mwetango (goosefoot), and Aloevera. Sometimes we also use neem, especially when we want to turn it into a pesticide.
What has been the biggest contributor to your success?
The farm is a family business co-owned by my husband and me. Even though I am the one running the farm, my husband remains my biggest support. I always tell men that if they want to see real development in their homes they should empower their wives and daugthers. If all men would do that the world would be a better place. Networking has also been pivotal. The Vision Group for instance offered us free TV airtime which opened the world to us. In 2010 we received the best urban farmer award which came with a grant we could use for training.
How are your using your success to impact the lives of others?
Am supporting the community women that to grow and market their the spices they grow. I am a promoter of urban farming and I have seen people’s lives transformed when they take some of the lessons I share with them. When we train on Kwagala farm, we try to show people what they can do even with small spaces. It is important to use what we have and transfer both knowledge and skills to transform other people’s lives.
To learn more about the Africa Biogas Partnership Programme (ABPPII).