It is the mango season in Gulu, Northern Uganda, trees drooping with green fruit quickly ripening to yellow. Apparently mangoes all ripen at once and looking at the many, many trees around us, this seems to be the case. What can you do with thousands of ripe mangoes? Some are sold in the market, at the moment half a dozen will fetch up to 500 shillings (about 12 British pence, or 1/8th of a British pound), that price will drop fast. General estimates reckon that between 60-80% of the Ugandan mango crop is wasted. Children eat them constantly; they climb the trees or throw stones at the fruit to get it down.
Adults try to dislodge them with long sticks. Otherwise the fruit just rots. Mango trees grow very tall, commercially perhaps they can be pruned to a suitable height but I have never seen it here.
Value added? I make mango jam, but finding new glass jars is impossible. The only second hand source I can buy are bottled olives (an odd supply but often available, who else buys them I wonder?), there is a limit to the number of nasty middle eastern olives anyone can eat. Finding a reasonably sterile environment to make jam at a small scale is even more difficult.
Once made, how would you transport it anywhere? There is obviously no reliable source of power or refrigeration and, oddly, drying fruit doesn’t seem to happen at all. You can buy tinned mango jam but it comes from, you guessed it; Dubai. The economics are such that it is cheaper to buy in jam than make it, any local source is quickly outpriced; equally hard to comprehend when you see trees full of the things.
This shows the difficulties people face and maybe the role of development funding. I was talking yesterday to someone representing a bakery youth group. They had been going for about five years, had built up a small business and needed to develop it, to earn more to pay for families etc. The group has business plans, but cannot raise extra finance. They do not have the six months of bank accounts needed before anyone will talk to them, because no one will give them a bank account to begin with. The monies involved are very small, most of the workers are illiterate and have none of the social standing demanded; this is a land of hierarchies. Without six months of bank accounts you can’t of course get a bank account, without the account they can’t get finance to grow the business; it is a familiar problem.
All small incomes are erratic, precarious, liable to collapse at any moment. In the West, those people trying to make a living out bits of poorly paid work have been identified as the ‘precariat; the problems people suffer in the South are coming your way too.
How can the graduates from our DFID (Department for International Development, ie the British Government)sponsored vocational training courses diversify? Where can they find income when their main source dries up; as we have seen above there is not much from the formal economy. Growing food to eat and sell is one solution. Agriculture largely collapsed whilst people were living in the camps, there was no space to grow anything, no tools and no seeds. Much knowledge has been lost, agricultural practices are very inefficient and young people are reluctant to take part. Digging is hard work and associated with punishment (it is a standard school retribution for bad behaviour for example). But, many colleges now teach students the basics, how to grow a few tomatoes and sweet potatoes etc, Uganda is an incredibly fertile place, two maybe three crops a year.
Other forms of value added enterprise and mangoes? For something to be relevant and sustainable for our students, lasting once we have gone, the ideas have to be local, small scale and without complex financial arrangements. Part of that sustainability comes from the employability, financial and soft skills training that students get on the Youth Development Programme, giving them we hope, the confidence and ability to try something new.
With my placement college I have been trying to develop a bicycle powered juicer.
The idea came from the American Instructables website, but similar machines exist in Tanzania and our colleague in Agoro has just bought a bicycle powered maize de-huller.
Sturdy sit up and beg bicycles are commonplace. You occasionally see bicycle powered knife grinders so the principle is established. The plan is to develop a basic juicer that can be placed and powered on the back rack of a bike, then all the operative has to do is fill the jug with mangoes (free from any tree) and pedal like mad, selling the juice to passers-by.
If we can sort out and pilot a prototype, students can make the blender themselves or buy them at cost price during their training; every little helps as the slogan has it.
By the way, the price of mangoes at that very supermarket in the UK is currently £1.50 each (about 6000 Ugandan Shillings) but the infrastructure just doesn’t exist to get produce from here to there, let alone negotiating a way through the prohibitive tariffs that favour western business. So, I’ll leave you with pictures of ripe mangoes; just think what you are missing!