Students study banana biz in eastern Uganda

As we stood under a canopy of banana leaves and listened in awe to a Ugandan entrepreneur who built her own plantation from nothing, I wondered why none of our classes ever included a business case study from Africa. Maybe it’s because much of Africa is what some people call a developing market. Well, this semester my Center for Experiential Learning practicum consulting team has the privilege of working with an organization on the front lines of that developing market. And it’s the best “case” I’ve ever had.

This is the first of a two-part report from the CEL Practicum consulting team that traveled to Uganda during spring break.

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Engaging with Ugandan entrepreneur

Our client, Mavuno, uses the principles of business to support farmers by organizing them into locally-led groups, educating them with optimal farming techniques, providing them quality supplies and seeds and allowing them access to regional markets. Mavuno is using business as a tool to end extreme poverty in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and stabilize one of the world’s most war-torn regions.

We took off from St. Louis the day after our last midterms, still groggy from our 4am alarms. We arrived in Entebbe, Uganda after 48 hours of traveling, anxious to start soaking in this foreign business landscape in the country that is the world’s second largest producer of bananas (a crop very similar to plantains). Throughout the next week, we traveled all across southern Uganda learning about all pieces of the banana value chain (while also getting a lesson on the expertise and generosity of the Ugandan people):

  • Andrew and Robert, a scientist and researcher respectively, illuminated R&D that the National Agriculture Research Organization is doing to create the best-yielding banana varieties and techniques in the lab and the field.
  • Gorette, a local farmer, demonstrated how she built a very profitable banana plantation with plenty of resourcefulness and dedication.
  • Multiple traders at the market showed how bananas get from the farmer to the hungry consumers in the capital of Kampala.
  • Ronald, an engineer, explained how farmers could alternatively sell their bananas to a government plant to be transformed into value-added banana flour.
  • Dipesh, a seasoned business man, related why his biscuit (cookie) factory had doubts about the feasibility of producing banana biscuits.
  • Matiya, a young entrepreneur, told us how he built his successful snack business that converts raw plantains to value-added plantain chips.

RELATED: Lessons from banana biz, part 2

Guest blogger: Cole Donelson, MBA ’18 Team Lead for Mavuno. 

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Meeting with local children.

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