“PlusPlus understands how a small business really works”
Meet Musa Kiggundu Muwanga, one of the Ugandan entrepreneurs on PlusPlus. The director of Frutrac gives us an update about his company, the impact they make and new opportunities that are opening up to them. And they have the PlusPlus investors to thank for it.
“A friend of mine told me about PlusPlus when we were looking for finances. We saw an opportunity and contacted the PlusPlus team” says Musa, in the photo on the right. Frutrac is a small company that exports organically produced fruits and commodities like sesame, chia, pineapple, apple, banana, mango, jackfruit and avocado. They export them both fresh and dried. But the lack of access to finance was a problem for them. Luckily, PlusPlus provided a solution.
According to Musa, the biggest challenge in emerging countries like Uganda is the difficult access to working capital. “The kind of financing available from the commercial banks does not match the reality of small businesses, especially in agriculture. It’s not what typical commercial banks are looking for” Musa explains. Commercial banks look at the risks and assess them from the perspective of a larger company. Even if the risks are very small, local banks still require collateral. PlusPlus doesn’t. “The main difference between a local bank and PlusPlus is that PlusPlus actually looks at the reality of being a small business”, Musa says.
Frutrac is more than just a business, it’s a company with a mission. In Uganda’s rural areas, where there is a lot of poverty, they want to build a vibrant economy, driven by the market and based on environment friendly sources of income. That’s why they buy their products directly from smallholder farmers and pay them directly. And they focus on organic agriculture. The company has Organic certification and works with 710 certified organic farmers to supply them. New farmers get the necessary training to become certified as well. When the farmers complete the training and get the certification, Frutrac buys the produce from them to sell it on the international market. This way they can support the farmers, while having the necessary income to operate and grow as a company.
“Smallholder farmers' commitment to such long-term programs can be erratic. Farmers will commit to you if you can guarantee that you will provide them with immediate tangible benefits, such as buying their products immediately after harvest, facilitate them with farm inputs, or short-term loans to address their immediate social needs, like school fees for their children or paying for medical services when family members fall sick. These needs always require quick responses. If you can’t provide that, the farmers will go to another buyer to solve their problems,” he explains. To create long-term commitment of the farmers, Frutrac provides trainings and mentoring to farmers, addressing not only the agronomy of the crops they buy, but also their other livelihood needs such as primary health care and tips on household income generation, savings and gender issues. For this, they seek partnerships with other organizations who can provide that.
A huge difference
“The biggest impact is the kind of change we’re making with the farmers we work with” says Musa. “When we started, Frutrac didn’t have enough financing to buy from the farmers. We tried banks, and searched for other options but it wasn’t possible to get the working capital. The farmers were disappointed, even though we had contracts with them. The PlusPlus loan made a huge difference. Now, we are able to buy much more produce and pay the farmers directly.” For Musa, it is exciting to talk to the farmers, as they are very content with the income they earn now, enabling them to pay for their domestic needs. “The impact is remarkable!” Musa says. “They now even aim to increase their volume for growth.”
Since receiving their first two loans from PlusPlus investors, the farmers have diversified their crops and started growing sunflower and soybeans, which they are growing together with sesame in rotation. Frutrac has also successfully renewed its’ EU and USA organic certification for the year 2022- 2023, with more products added to the previous year’s scope. This offers more market opportunities. But the biggest news is the new contract Frutrac recently signed to supply a German Importing Company with EU Certified Organic Sesame. Just like the PlusPlus loan, Frutrac considers this new contract a vote of confidence and a great opportunity to buy more organic products from the smallholder farmers.
The future is exciting
The new contract is in addition to the existing contract to supply a local Ugandan Company with EU certified Organic Sesame, at a frequency of one container every month. The German buyer is interested in 6 containers per season, starting with two containers this fall. That’s why Frutrac is requesting for a new loan at PlusPlus: they need the working capital to buy more sesame from the farmers. And as the sesame harvest season has just ended, they need it as soon as possible.
“For us the future is exciting. The increasing amount of funding we get from PlusPlus allows us to reach more farmers” says Musa. Their vision as a company is to have an impact on the local and regional economy. They want to grow, to be able to help more smallholder farmers generate a sustainable income. Musa believes that this is what lies at the heart of their compatibility with PlusPlus. “In 3 to 5 years, we’ll be able to have 3.000 – 4.000 farmers benefiting from them. That would be a great impact on a larger scale” Musa says.
“What is very interesting for me, is that I have a sense of connection with the people investing through PlusPlus” Musa adds. “You see directly who is behind the crowdfunding. This brings a feeling of being connected, and makes the experience more real, while bringing an additional sense of responsibility. I want to thank all our investors for having the confidence to work with us through PlusPlus! We’re so happy with the process PlusPlus provided us. We’re motivated to keep working with this responsibility and we’re very happy with the impact on all the farmers we could have thanks to PlusPlus. Thank you!” Musa concludes.