When William Mutumba saw the ease with which pumpkins are grown in Uganda, he saw a big opportunity to invest in it.
A few months later, Mutoscan, a Ugandan company whose sole aim is to create value addition on local agricultural produce was born.
The company owned by Mutumba and partners including Thomas Kjellgren, grow pumpkins and add value to them.
“We identified the health value in the pumpkin fruit given its high nutritional values and its ability to grow over a relatively short period in many places across Uganda,” Mutumba, one of the directors says.
Kjellgren adds that he was amazed by the potential of pumpkin growing in Uganda.
“I like pumpkins and I saw a very big opportunity to produce them in Uganda,” he says.
With this in mind, they set out to grow pumpkins in Luwero district on a large scale in 2019. With the help of out-growers, they have managed to produce enough pumpkin fruits to start on the pumpkin value addition project.
The pumpkin farm, located in Kalagala, near Busiika, Luwero district sits on over 20 acres of land. They are leasing the land for a given period.
“We import good pumpkin seeds, propagate them, before planting on our farm or by our out-growers,” Mutumba says.
They have out-growers in Mityana, Rukungiri and Kalagala in Luwero district.
Mutumba says the farm hired a competent farm manager, Rajab Mukasa, who is also in charge of training out-growers in good pumpkin growing practices.
With many out-growers, this has in effect created jobs for local people in these areas as they intend to expand the out-growers scheme even further afield.
“We plan to cover over 1,000 acres under pumpkin by the middle of 2023,” Mutumba says.
The farmers do not pay for the seeds and other inputs but are obliged to sell the pumpkins to us,” Mutumba explained.
Yudaya Mukasa, in Luwero is one of the pumpkin out-growers. She says that with the good seeds given to them, good yields are harvested.
“I was growing pumpkins casually in my matooke shamba, however, when these people approached me, I accepted. I have learnt better pumpkin farming practices and now my harvests have gone up,” she says.
At the moment, they are working with 60 out growers in the country.
“The positive effects of the project on the household income in the areas we operate now have begun to manifest themselves,” Mutumba says.
From an acre, a farmer can earn as much as sh9m a year, with minimum inputs.
Mutumba says that small-scale farmers have proved to be effective in managing the pumpkin farms.
“So we believe that if we continue to provide high-quality seeds and technical know-how to our partners, the out-growers, this fruit will not only enhance their household income but greatly improve the health of the family unit as a whole,” Mutumba says.
If the moderate price is sh1,000 each at the farm gate, then that is sh9m per acre.
Pumpkins are perhaps one of the easiest foods to grow. There are over seven varieties of pumpkins in Uganda. These include sweet cream, bala, dulu, onziga, sunfish, sugar pie and anderina.
“We realized that we could not get good money without adding value to the product. So we set up a system to process the pumpkin into flour for porridge and chapatti,” he says.
The equipment included electric dryers that are installed at the farm. Mutumba says that the dryers cost them over sh50m.
“The dryers are modern, they use electricity at three phases which makes them a bit expensive to maintain, but we need them because they offer us quality,” Mutumba says.
After drying, they are taken to Kawanda National Agriculture Research Centre for milling and packaging.
“Kawanda has modern processing units for this kind of product. We went to Kawanda and explained to them what we were doing and we were assigned one of the experts, Moses Kaweesa, to help us develop our product,” Mutumba says.
The final product is a composite of pumpkin, soy and maize flours plus a vanilla flavour. It is traded under the name ‘Pumpkin King’ and was certified by the Uganda National Bureau of Statistics (UNBS).
“Since our product is based on the pumpkin fruit, we make sure that we put pumpkin flour as the major component of our product. This is produced at Kawanda Research Station under well-controlled conditions,” Mutumba says.
They also make sure to source other flours from certified Millers.
The product is now sold in supermarkets across the country and in neighbouring countries.
“We can process 300tons of flour per year,” Mutumba says.
Mutumba says that one of the biggest challenges is that some out-growers do not manage their farms well, hence incurring losses for the company.
“Some plant the seedlings we give them, but fail to maintain the farms. We made losses of over 50,000 pumpkins last season because of failure by out-growers to manage the farms,” he says.
The other big challenge is electricity.
“We use a lot of power during the drying process. We do not have any subsidy on power yet,” he says.
Mutumba explains that they plan to set up their own processing unit as they increase production.
Money in pumpkins
Pumpkins are a delicacy that is consumed in nearly every part of the country.
They can be grown across the country too. Currently, prices range from sh1,000 for a medium size at the farm gate to sh5,000 for a large one at retail.
Each plant produces as many as 30 per season, which gives over 9,000 per acre or even more.
Pumpkins take four months to mature, which means that a farmer can have two seasons per year.
How adding value pays
The average price of pumpkins is sh1,000 on the farm.
And yet with value-added, that single pumpkin goes for over sh10,000.
This is because, from one big pumpkin, the seeds alone go for more than sh5,000, while the juice from two pumpkins is enough to process a 750ml bottle of wine which goes for between sh15,000 and sh20,000.
Roasting the seeds
This is simple. The seeds are dried under the sun or using a solar dryer. They are then roasted in saucepans before they are packed in containers. A 150grams container goes for sh5,000.
As for the pumpkin leaves powder is also generated and sold as a sauce additive. The leaves are dried in the solar drier.
They are then pounded before they are packed. These can be eaten as a sauce, once mixed with hot water and spices.
How to make the wine
The pumpkins are washed, trimmed, peeled and chopped and grinded before they are placed in the fermenter to start the fermentation process.
Spices and boiling water are added and then allowed to rest overnight.
On the next day, add all other ingredients except yeast. Stir well to dissolve sugar.
Sprinkle yeast over the mixture and stir. Stir daily for three to five days. The mix will get nice and bubbly and should have a pleasant, mildly yeasty smell.
At the end of this first fermentation of about 5 days, the pumpkin will have turned to mush and the grapes will be plump. Strain and squeeze out as much juice as possible.
Then, distil into a secondary fermenter, add water and then attach an airlock. An airlock is an airtight cover.
For a dry wine, filter in three weeks, and every three months for one year. For a sweet wine, filtering should be done at three weeks. Add 1/2 cup sugar dissolved in 1 cup wine. Stir gently, and place back into the secondary fermenter.
Repeat the process every six weeks until fermentation does not restart with the addition of sugar. Filter every three months until one year old.
The older the wine, the better it gets, so allow the wine to grow for at least one year for the best flavour.