Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Visiting Fruits of the Nile in Uganda

This is a guest post from Adam Brett.

I recently returned from an interesting trip to Uganda with organic expert, Dr Julia Wright of Garden Organics to visit some of our projects. One of these is a small solar-drying fruit company called Fruits of the Nile, a 2008 Ashden Award winner. We are currently assisting them in their transition to Organic and Fair Trade certified production for all of their products. We are also exploring whether Fruits of the Nile can diversify to include solar-dried berry products in their repertoire.Depending on weather conditions, Fruits of the Nile are hoping to export between two to four tonnes of chewy bananas this month and they continue to dry and export pineapples. We discussed the possibility of growing and drying berry products also. During the trip we saw and tasted both strawberry and Chinese gooseberry (also know as Physalis or “golden-berry”) which we think could be scaled up by Fruits of the Nile for little cost. Julia also thought the growing conditions in Uganda could be good for growing blueberries. We discovered that the drying ratios for berries are higher than expected: 4.5 kilos of golden berries yield 1 kilo dry weight, with the ratio only slightly lower for strawberries. This means farmers will need to grow less than they do currently for pineapple. It will also be easier to solar dry the berries than it is for other crops because they can be held for ripening after harvesting more easily.We travelled to Western Uganda to meet the farmers we work with and see how they cultivate strawberries. I also wanted to show Julia the range of available growing conditions in Uganda. We found golden-berries growing wild in a number of banana plantations, and several farmers experimenting with strawberry cultivation for the local fresh market.
We agreed to go ahead with trial cultivation of berries in the Central region which has the best conditions for these crops – it is hot enough for drying and there are good cultivation conditions. We selected a possible family farm that we have worked with as a good potential site for initial trials.
We are encouraging Fruits of the Nile to chase up the organic certification, which is taking some time to process although they are at the very final stages. For the time-being the existing stocks of pineapple are “organic in conversion”, waiting on the final approval of organic certification and they can become organic as soon as the certificate arrives.

In the short term we have decided to prepare a berry cultivation manual for Fruits of the Nile and local farmers and review the cultivation requirements for growing berries before we begin. Despite the problems that the global recession is inevitably causing for these local farmers, like so many others, we found the staff to be positive and doing their best to adapt to the prevailing conditions.

Adam Brett is Managing Director of Fulwell Mill in Sunderland, UK. He sits on the judging panel for the Ashden Awards, but stood down from this during 2008, when Fruits of the Nile applied.

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