By Mike Ssegawa
“The cocoa seed is gold,” says Stephen Sembuya, a humble youthful entrepreneur, as I met him at his main office in Kamwokya.
His company Pink Foods which he co-founded with Felix Okuye about five years ago, has already made international headlines in media such as CNN, CCTV, Reuters, et al. Eh, not to mention, Stephen Sembuya is already one of Forbes 30 under 30 African entrepreneurs. That is no mean achievement for the youthful student of Leadership and Management at Makerere University Business School.
On a Tuesday afternoon before I made a call to Sembuya, I had been impressed by his social media promotions where he serves chocolate to his visitors who afterwards share their chocolate story on their social media. I too went for the challenge which generated great response on my page.
Whereas his Uganda Chocolate brand is what is making rounds on social media, Pink Foods have already made two other products; Pearl Chocolate and Nile Chocolate. Sembuya assured me that they are unique products made at their Kawempe factory.
However, Sembuya does not describe himself as an entrepreneur.
“I am a farmer,” he starts, as we get down to business. “We grow cocoa.”
Cocoa is the raw material for chocolate business. The crop flourishes in Bundibugyo and was grown big time in Mukono and Buikwe before 1990.
Sembuya’s grandfather Yafeesi Magulu was a prominent cocoa farmer in Nkokonjeru, Buikwe district, where Pink Foods are about to set up a bigger chocolate factory this year. The farm is possibly the biggest farm of a single person in Uganda, sitting on about 70 acres.
The entrepreneur says that cocoa is the yet to be an appreciated treasure in Uganda, but revealed that the demand for cocoa beans cannot be quenched and that was why he was himself involved in growing cocoa.
He was behind the Cocoa Farmers and Chocolate Processors association, which has about 400 members. The members are taught good farming and value addition practices including fermentation and drying of the fruits and seeds.
Whereas in the past 10 years the government has not made considerable investment in cocoa growing, Sembuya says, last year, the crop contributed $75 million in export, which made it number four on the list of cash crops after coffee, tea and tobacco.
The youthful Sembuya, whose father, Christopher Sembuya co-founded the legendary Sembule Empire, says the association also gives its members free classes in chocolate making, a monthly newsletter on the sector and test their soils free of charge.
“Five years ago, I picked on the idea of my grandfather,” says the entrepreneur who didn’t want to follow his father’s line’s business in electronics. He had realized that Indians and whites were buying his grandfather’s cocoa in huge numbers and wondered what they do with it.
Together with Okuye, they started to do research and development until 2014 when they came out with their first product.
Today, a slaw of Uganda Chocolate for example, costs sh8000, and they have established clients.
This year, Sembuya says their chocolates will be on shelves of 16 supermarkets and four outlets. He adds that they are also looking for partners in government and private sector to ensure Ugandans benefit from the chocolate industry.
Through Operation Wealth Creation, Sembuya says, government has handed out about nine million seedlings which he says is a step in the right direction.
He encourages farmers to start growing cocoa which he says is not only profitable but also conserves the environment.
“On one acre, you can plant between 400 to 500 trees. These will give you one tone of cocoa business, which translates into sh9.5 million.
“This industry will ensure jobs, money and taxes stay in our country,” he quips, explaining that their factory alone will make chocolate, drinking chocolate and cocoa butter.