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INNOVATION: Meet Tom Kajubi, First Year Journalism Student Minting Cash Out of Sugarcane Juice

Until the cows come home, most countries across the globe are finding great difficulty on how to combat and lower youth unemployment rates that have been growing exponentially.

No wonder, this concern is shared by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in its report titled “Global Empowerment Trends for Youth 2020.”

The report above observes that the labour force participation rate of young people (aged 15-24) between 1999 and 2019 has slightly dropped though this population cluster has slightly increased by 0.3 billion since then.

During this time span, ILO notes that the total number of young people engaged in the labour force (those who are either employed or unemployed) has decreased from 568 million to 497 million.

In Uganda, it is estimated that out of the 6.7 million youngsters (18-30 years) that constitute the country’s working population, 13% are idle according to a 2019 Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) fact sheet.

This is irrespective of the fact that the working age population has increased to 19.1 million from 16.5 million persons in the 2012/13 Financial Year.

Rather than folding his hands or resigning himself to fate, Tom Zirimenya Kajubi started planning early enough on how to overcome this head scratcher.

Today the first year journalism student at Makerere University produces blended sugar cane juice at his lone branch located opposite the tractor bond in Nakawa.

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How he started

Born twenty years ago in Kyabakuzza – Masaka, since childhood, the stout, chocolate complexioned and ardent Uganda Cranes fan had always dreamed of establishing a beverage company but the problem was he did not know how.

About two years ago, it dawned on him that he could venture into producing sugar cane juice after running into a friend who was operating a similar venture in the central business district.

Together with a friend (name withheld), they started pooling resources and when they were set, they approached their other friend.

“We approached the guy and asked him how we can get this machine. The guy was like ‘I got this machine from china, there is a friend of mine who brought it for me’,” the chocolate skinned patron intimated.

Eager to offset the importation costs, they instead turned their minds to Katwe, a Kampala suburb renowned for its artisanship.

“So we moved up to Katwe at a place called Musa Body Garage. We reached there and he had the machine that looks like the one we want (a prototype), it was doing the same work but it was of a different shape,” he narrated.

After walking their feet off in search of a cheaper machine, they tried to find overseas firms that offered a cheaper option until they landed on one.

“The machine, transportation, customs duty and such stuff all roughly cost 2.5 million shillings. And then when we tried to bargain the one that is made in Uganda, the last price was 3 million shillings which means that the 500,000 that would be saved could help us start the business,” Kajubi explained.

However, in late January 2020 when all was set, they encountered another encumbrance when their friend maliciously refused to share information on how the machine operates.

“We found ourselves stuck on how we are going to mix the ingredients, meet our customer’s needs, of what quality is the juice going to be?” Kajubi posed.

Tom Kajubi squeezing juice out of sugarcane

In between pauses, he espoused as to why this was the case.

“The biggest problem amongst us Africans is that we fear competition. So he thought that if we brought the machine, we may compete with him and he would lose some customers and things like that,” Kajubi pointed out.

When they were soon approaching their wits end, they realized that they could make tastier juice by blending sugar cane juice with other ingredients such as peppermint and ginger through gambling.

Before they knew it, Uganda was placed under lock and key following the global outbreak of the Covid-19 Pandemic.

When the measures were partially relaxed and with school no more, Kajubi decided to devote all his time to the budding enterprise.

Without waiting, they started with the little resources at their disposal.

“We never started with that dispenser. We used to make the juice and then put it in the fridge in jerrycans. So if the customer came, you would go to the fridge, get the juice and serve them,” Kajubi shared his experience.

“But then we realized that we needed a dispenser because it gives a wide range of display and then on top of that it cools very fast,” he elaborated further.

At this juncture, one might ask why the budding journalist chose a ‘dirty job’ which by description suits the wretched of this nation. Responding to this, Kajubi disclosed that he was trying not to clutch onto his parent’s aprons for financial support.

“If at all I want a camera, I don’t have to bother my parents all the time that I want one. I know I can work as long as my head is still on, I have my legs and hands,” he replied promptly.

Watch Kajubi operating the machine here;

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1guJXCyhkk

The economics

Although he had underestimated it at first, Kajubi now concedes that his gig is a gold mine of sorts.

“Approximately, I can make 22 liters a day at Shs 1000 (each glass) and then there is also one 1500. It is stable and favorable because some of the competitive advantages we had is that we are locals here and the people know us,” he illustrated.

More so, Kajubi says that with the cost of local sugar cane ranging between 800 to 1000 shs, venturing into this business is not impervious.

Challenges

Whereas local sugar cane is resistant to fermenting, the amount of juice one can extract from it is incomparable to the exotic Goa type.

That aside, he also says that the sugar cane press is tedious and also energy-draining, the reason as to why he cannot employ his sisters.

“I also have to add in some efforts to press the sugarcane. And you know ladies naturally are weak and also if you are not fit you may get a muscle pull,” he elaborated symbolically.

One of his sisters; Sharon Nakajubi, was supposed to graduate with a Bachelor’s of Business Administration from Makerere University whereas the other one is studying at Management Training and Advisory Center (MTAC) situated on Jinja Road.

His work also comes with some personal sacrifices.  While others are in deep slumber, Kajubi is already awake at 4:30 am setting up the day’s operations.

“I need to cut this sugar cane that I get from the store; I go the market and buy pepper mint. So I make sure that by 7; 00 am I am ready to start work,” Kajubi revealed.

Going forward

By the end of this year, Kajubi expects to import an electronic T-700 machine from Vietnam, something he says will elevate the production capacity and simplify work.

“Apparently we have one branch but we hope to open up three branches within Nakawa once the new machine comes. The new machine will help us produce more juice compared to the juice we are making nowadays,” he adde

In five years time, Kajubi dreams of being a successful journalist and hopes to create business opportunities for others.

At the tail end, he says that it is never too late to start a business as long as one is focused.

 

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