|Baker Muwonge on the right, President of Uganda in the hat|
Baker Muwonge, the owner and manager of Seasons Dairy in Kampala, Uganda recently came to the US to visit Ricki Carroll. This was a great honor for the Cheese Queen.
Baker's primary product is mozzarella, so she arranged for him to meet the owner of the Mozzarella House in Peabody, Massachusetts. Giuseppe Argentieri showed Baker how he makes his cheese, and offered him some new ideas for his business.
Baker has been making cheese for 14 years. During that time, he has had help from many experts in the field, including Kate Arding, the Cheese Director for Culture Magazine.
Because, in part, of his willingness to seek help and to learn from the best in the field, Baker's business has grown "by leaps and bounds." He is currently looking for a business partner to help him with further expansion.
|Grand opening of the new plant|
|Visitors at the grand opening|
Interview with Baker Muwonge
Was last month's visit your first trip to the United States?
Before this last trip, I attended a program in 2010, being funded by the State Department. I was selected by the US. Embassy in Uganda to participate in a competitive International Visitor Leadership program called "A New Beginning: Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation.
In this program, we met in the US with 27 other delegates from different countries, each one of them representing their countries. Africa was represented by myself from Uganda and six others from different African countries. The main purpose for the program was to meet with American entrepreneurs to share our experiences and challenges in businesses. The program was very beneficial and enterprising. That's how I got connected to America and the world.
The program was launched in the presence of many entrepreneurs in Washington, DC and then we were introduced to other entrepreneurs in Phoenix, San Francisco and finally in New York City where the program ended after three weeks of massive learning. While in New York City, we had a chance to dine with the former Mayor, Michael Bloomberg who gave us a very inspirational speech. Each participant was awarded a certificate of attendance by the program director, Ms. Alma Candelaria.
How did you become interested in making cheese?
It was my father, a farmer, who convinced a cheese maker to teach me how to make cheese in the year 2000. My father paid him in Uganda shillings 1000,000 (about $390) and that was the entire capital my father gave me to start the business.
Immediately after payment was made, I had to move to Mukono, a place where the cheese business was located. Mr. Ruben, the cheese maker, had one tiny room where cheese was being produced. I got very interested in the whole process from the first day he allowed me to start working with him. I was happy to see the milk change to something different before my eyes. He specialized in cheddar cheese making and also made some mozzarella once in awhile.
I spent about six months working with him, while training on a daily basis. We processed an average of 200 liters per day (53 gallons), making mostly blocks of cheddar. Day by day my interest continued to grow as I watched the milk changing form. Using a charcoal stove to boil the milk was quite challenging, but it did not stop the passion and love I developed in the entire process.
After training, I went back to my home village, about 75 miles from the capital city, Kampala. Returning to my home village was good and I went back fully equipped with knowledge in cheese making and ready to start making my own cheese. My father was happy to see me back in the village, very determined and ready to start. He allowed me to use two of our former boy's quarters to start production. Mr. Ruben had trained me in everything- how to start small scale cheese making, and where to go if I needed to fabricate equipment, and that's exactly what I did.
My father gave me more money (about $200,) for the fabricators and I applied similar technology to make the equipment I had used during my training. Within a short time, I was ready to start making cheese.
|Baker is in the green shirt and that is his
father next to him in the blue shirt - Mr. Sebyala Zubair Mbugaeramula.|
Kate Arding at right, training Baker and his staff.
What were some of the challenges at the beginning?
In the beginning, things were a little rough, especially finding the milk suppliers was not very easy. I had to convince them to bring me milk. The challenge was to work only 3 days in a week while the milking was being done on a daily basis by the farmers. They did not want to cut the daily supply for me just because I only worked 3 days in a week.
This problem went on for a long time because I was working alone, and I had to use public means to go to the village to make the cheese, bring it to Kampala for packaging and then distribute it to the supermarkets. I had very little money. Keeping and waiting for the cheese to mature for at least two weeks was another challenge. So, I had to convince and request the farmers to allow me more time to make payments.
|Madam Edith from the Agricultural Department taking pictures at the original dairy|
I started in the year 2001, with 50 liters (13 gallons) of cow's milk making cheese alone with fabricated equipment. But, I loved the art of cheese making and believed in it.
Over the years, I have been searching for better machines for production improvement. During the first period of 5 years, I was upgrading from fabricated machines to much more suitable ones but, of course, they were not automated.
I started with the cheddar cheese I had mastered during my training. It was the most popular product, even for Mr. Ruben.
|Behind the old dairy|
The first production, however, did not go well. Some of the cheese did not come out well after adding the rennet and the cultures. It could not be compacted, even after pressing. This was very frustrating! I kept in touch with Mr. Ruben for solutions, and I continued to do things the way he had trained me. The challenges kept arising during the process because what he had trained me in was the traditional way of making cheese - not the formal way.
Finding a market for my cheese was yet another challenge I faced! I had to have a way of presenting my product, so I got a friend who had some experience in graphic design to make me a label. My father and I thought of the name to put on the label and we chose "Seasons Dairy." So, I contacted the graphic designer with the name and the words "Improved Mature Cheddar Cheese." He made good labels with my phone numbers on them.
How did you grow the business?
Mr. Ruben had not made colored labels and there were no big local companies or many cheese makers in Uganda at that time. So, it was very simple for a few companies to be recognized. This was an advantage to sell our products and it prompted me to think positively and to realize that the cheese making business had to be formalized. I registered the business name 'Seasons Dairy," operating as a sole proprietorship in the year 2002.
Since then, I have never stopped making cheese and selling it in Uganda and sometimes in Southern Sudan. Mozzarella cheese became our major product and we were selling it to restaurants and pizzerias.
|Cutting curds with a machete in the old dairy|
One day I got contacted by an officer from the Dairy Development Authority who picked my product from the shelf of one of the supermarkets I was supplying in Kampala. They had arranged a workshop on cheese making and marketing. The workshops organized by the DDA helped me and others who were in the cheese making business to market our products. Besides the help from the DDA, I had a personal dream to make the cheese making art better. I have never looked back on my passion for cheese making. It has been a driving force throughout many difficult situations over the years.
In the year 2004, I was introduced to Land O' Lakes, a private organization funded by USAID which made a great impact on my cheese making skills and brought in more light. They sent me a dairy technologist, Mr. Samuel Sebbaduka and an expert from the United Kingdom, Ms. Kate Arding who came to my village to train me in the formal way of cheddar making.
We had a good time learning how to make cheese using a formal recipe for cheddar making and moving away from the initial traditional way I had learned from Mr. Ruben. After Kate's training, the quality of my cheddar improved, the sales went up and I managed to save some money to buy new, advanced machines from Kenya. I also hired a professional cheese maker from an old Kenyan cheese factory to work for me. He is still working as a factory manager.
|Workers in the new plant|
In the year 2008, Seasons Dairy was incorporated as a limited liability company. I made a visit to FDB in Italy searching for better machines. I was connected to them by a friend from Kenya who used to outsource my fabricated equipment for me. When I got to Italy, I could not believe I was in Europe to buy the dream of my life!
What surprised me more was the reception I received at FDB, the company which finally sold me the plant. They treated me very professionally despite the color of my skin, my age and the size of investment I had at that time. They gave me technical advise on how to change the building, and they planned the plant to fit in the building I had put up, according to my budget.
Because of the business background starting it without capital, it took us only 4 years to procure and install the plant we have now. FDB sold us very good machines; they came and installed the plant and we are now looking forward to making good use of them by making and selling top quality products to our customers. This undertaking was extremely expensive since we have been borrowing funds from a commercial bank. Paying back the loans has been and still is a nightmare! The only driving force has been my passion for the art of cheese making!
|From right: Muwonge Baker, Fredrick Muchesia, production manager, Alex and Mario of FDB and visitors during installation of machines at the new factory|
In the year 2009, I continued to pursue my effort in search for more knowledge in cheese making and food processing. I applied to the Danish Government to enroll me in a course at the Agricultural College in Denmark. My application was granted and I was enrolled to to take a course in Bygholm Agriculture College on "Food Safety and Traceability" fully paid for by Danida (Danish International Development Agency).
This was my turning point for more improvement in cheese making. During the course, we had hands-on studies in big cheese factories and we studied safety standards systems (HACCP, Global Gap, ISO 22000 and more). This added a lot of value to the initial apprenticeship knowledge I had acquired from Kate and Mr. Ruben during my training in cheese making.
In the year 2010, I was very privileged to host our President of Uganda who came to my old factory during his visit to Kayunga district. The theme for his tour of the district in Kayunga was prosperity for all. He recognized Seasons Dairy as a key player in increasing the household incomes for the entire community, especially the dairy farmers.
|The President of Uganda promised to help Baker secure funding for the new plant|
That year was very special to me in another way because I was married to my beautiful wife, Moona.
|Baker and his wife, Moona Muwonge|
|Baker with his children|
In December 2011, we received a consignment from Italy of two 40 ft containers fully loaded with the cheese plant which had extended lines to produce pasteurized milk. This was a lifetime goal for my entire life and I could not believe I was finally getting automated machines!! All the containers came without any damage.
In December, the installation began by Mr. Mario, President of FDB, and his support staff and within two weeks, the plant was standing. Mr. Mario and Alex had to go back to Italy for Christmas, then later Mr. Mario returned in January, 2012, by himself for another two weeks to finalize the installation and to train us on the machines. Now, the plant is almost ready with only a few machines remaining to be certified by European standards.
|Mr. Muwonge and Mr. Mario, president of FDB and the translator talking to the farmers|
What is your current situation?
I am very informed about cheese making and the necessary quality control. I am satisfied with the quality of the machines from FDB Italy. The challenge we have now is to procure additional machines to enable us to kick start the full production. We are still making cheese manually because we need to have a stretching and molding machine for mozzarella cheese and packaging machines for the fresh pasteurized milk.
|Baker with Ricki Carroll, the Cheese Queen|
Our installed plant production capacity is about 30,000 liters (7,925 gallons) per day, making cheese and fresh pasteurized milk. Because of the limited funds we had while procuring the plant, the fresh milk line was not completed. To complete it, we need to buy a plastic pouches packing machine, a homogenizer, and one pump and a storage tank for pasteurized milk. The cheese line can be completed with only one machine for stretching and molding. We are still using our hands to process 1200 liters (317 gallons) of milk per day. I need help to kick start production.
|Mozzarella, ready to be stored|
What are your goals?
I would like to find a business partner who can understand the value of this business. I own 90% of the shares in my business, with a total investment of Shs. 1,610,000,000/= (Shillings One Billion Six Hundred Ten Million (only about $650,000) according to the certified valuation report from 20th December, 2013. The valuation is for assets only, without sweat equity. Out of the entire value, we are paying back a loan of $262,700. This loan is expensive for the business at 17% per annum and without full production, we are barely paying it off.
Our urgent requirement is to purchase additional machines that complete the fresh milk production as well as the molding and stretching machine for mozzarella production. We need to increase the capacity immediately to improve the quality of our mozzarella, so that we can take on the large orders and reach many new customers.
I started the factory in a small way, but now the business has grown. We need to apply new concepts. I am very optimistic that our sales will triple in a few months. The Mozzarella House in Peabody, MA is willing to help us apply these new concepts, so we need to find an investment of $100,000 in the form of a loan, equity, or grant from any NGO (non government organization) or government organization willing to assist us to procure and install a full line for fresh pasteurized milk and a stretching and molding machine for mozzarella production.
The art of cheese making and passion for this business will continue grow and support many people involved.
Muwonge Baker, Managing Director,
Seasons Dairy Limited
Plot 53, Block 48 Baale West, Kayunga
P.O. Box 29532, Kampala - Uganda.