Michael CareyUganda is among the beneficiaries of Traidlinks, an Irish not-for-profit organization that focuses on linking African countries to new potential markets with a special focus on the foods industry. The Chairman, Michael Carey, spoke to The Independent's Julius Businge and Joan Akello.
What is Traidlinks doing in Uganda?
A few years ago, the Irish government asked a group of Irish business leaders to come to Uganda to look for opportunities, to create linkages between the Irish private sector and that of Uganda. In 2005, we came for our first visit to Uganda and we decided to establish a group called Traidlinks. Since then we have been coming here, meeting business people with Patrick Bitature who is on our board.
The board of Traidlinks is a combination of business leaders and individuals and is looking forward to meet the objectives of the organisation. Our role is to encourage the development of an enterprise culture in a socially positive way. We have mentoring programmes targeting the small and medium enterprises to help them grow their capability in the agriculture supply chain.
We have a lot of work in the Hoima region where Tullow oil is active because our relationship with Tullow is strong. We have established an enterprise centre in Hoima to engage with SMEs targeting the oil industry. We are seeking new opportunites to engage with the Uganda government in the agriculture sector through the Uganda Investment Authority and Uganda Export Promotions Board (UEPB).
Because of our efforts, we are beginning to see the business community coming together, talking about how they can best strategize as businesses to benefit from the oil. We have advised them to organize their structures so that they are visible to the oil sector. We have told them that if they do not have these structures, there cannot be any interface and that they need to work on the databases for the region.
They are very weak, I must say but they are ready to up their game. Our funding comes from the Irish government, which started the idea. We have now widened our base of funding to involve private sector funding. Other funders include Tullow Uganda and TradeMark East Africa.
What would you say have been your achievements over the years?
We have run a number of market-linked programmes together with the UEPB where now many companies are exporting agricultural products to Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Kenya and they (companies) are growing. This programme is helping companies to look for opportunities in the export market. We are also linking local companies to oil companies to do business.
Now we can prove that farmers in Hoima and Buliisa can supply products of international standards to these companies in line with the local content policy. Traidlinks has been there to help them understand and comply with the standards and we believe these have a long term benefit for Uganda. We have over 70 companies that have been on our programme and we hope to increase the number with time.
People say Ugandan companies are never serious when it comes to meeting targets. What has been your experience with our companies over the years?
They are trying. Some of them have good systems and products and we are engaging them to ensure that they are able to meet international trade requirements so they can expand and grow, create jobs and contribute to economic growth. There is still a gap but I will say there is room for them to improve and meet our expectations.
Why are you focusing on food?
I invest in food companies; I am also the executive chairman of the Irish government's Food Board responsible for the development and promotion of the food industry in Ireland. The world by 2050 needs to produce 70% more food than it produces today and Africa is part of the growing demand but also part of the solution. Uganda has a clear national strategy for the agri foods sector and I think it is headed to a better direction.
With the knowledge you have so far about Uganda, what needs to be done to improve Uganda's agriculture opportunities?
Getting customer insights and understanding their needs is one of them. There is a need to add value to feed the growing local and international markets. Ireland used to export live animals in the past; this was not profitable, now it is no longer doing it. Uganda has a comparative advantage in coffee, pineapples, mangoes among other crops; these need value-addition so they can easily be marketed.
That is why we are here, to link Ugandan business people to potential markets outside. There is growing demand for foods in Europe especially for natural, organic foods, which Uganda can take advantage of. It is also critical to produce food after doing market research and ensure quality standards. The opportunities are numerous here and are open for Uganda to exploit.
What are your major plans going forward?
We have over the years made a total investment in Uganda of 8-9 million Euros through funding from Tullow, the Irish Government, and TradeMark East Africa and more is coming. We have been discussing with our local partners on our future.
We are reviewing our strategies and will identify new opportunities where we can make a bigger impact in the near future. But our commitment to helping local companies get good markets for their goods outside remains key on our agenda.