His stall was a beehive of activity at the recent Agripreneur Summit and Expo at Lugogo organised by the Uganda Manufacturers Association in collaboration with the American chamber of commerce and industry.
Julius Nyanzi, a Makerere University graduate of Science wowed dozens of Ugandan and foreign visitors at the two-day exhibition with his demonstration of how he produces a wide range of products from locally grown plants. The biggest attractions however seemed to be the sweet-smelling fragrances he produces and vends.
True to the spirit of the summit and expo which placed emphasis on youth involvement in agriculture under the theme; ie Generation Agripreneur; Shaping the next 25 years of Ugandan agribusiness, Nyanzi has quickly translated his academic skills into a promising business based on agriculture.
At 23 years, Nyanzi’s entrepreneurial abilities are something to take note of. He told The Sunrise that in his final year at Makerere, he worked as a consultant with a AGT Laboratories, Uganda’s pioneer Tissue Culture multiplication laboratory located at Buloba along Mityana road.
“I saved the money I was getting from AGT to acquire or fabricate equipment which I use in extracting the oils,” he said.
After a short stint with AGT, Nyanzi founded his own company Prof Bioresearch under which he started making a wide range of wonder products including fragrances, spiced teas, mosquito repellents, mouth washes, air fresheners as well as selling planting materials for natural sweeteners and other high value plants.
Perhaps because of their powerful sweet smell, Nyanzi’s products have become hot-selling items almost wherever he goes. Among his popular products are oils extracted from several local and exotic plants such as Lemon grass (eteete), Eucalyptus, Jasmine,
Nyanzi insists that all his products are organically produced and thereby contain their natural properties. This, he says, has helped him tap into the growing multi-billion organic market. Locally his biggest buyers so far are westerners who appreciate the value of organic products.
“There is a great movement away from processed foods towards organically produced ones because of the superior health benefits brought about by consuming organic types,” says Nyanzi.
To gain the confidence of the visitors at his stall, Nyanzi had on display a range of plants from which he produces oils as well as other products like Stevia powder made simply from crushed dried Stevia leaves. Research shows that people in Mexico and Brazil and other Southern America countries have used raw Stevia as a natural sweetener for generations. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration however does not recommend taking raw Stevia as a food additive because of its alleged effects on blood sugar levels, effects on the reproductive, cardiovascular, and renal systems.
The FDA has however allowed companies to use an isolated chemical from Stevia called Rebaudioside A as food additive, calling the chemical ‘generally recognized as safe.’
But Nyanzi notes that these concerns are partly inspired by the heavy commercial interests of beverage and pharmaceutical companies.
“The World Health Organisation (WHO) has ruled that Stevia is not harmful for consumption,” Nyanzi adds that the natural sweetener is preferred to ordinary processed sugar because it does not add calories to a person’s blood, thereby prevents the risk of developing high blood pressure and diabetes.
Nyanzi further encourages people not just to grow the Stevia plant in their own gardens as a sugar substitute but also as a source of income.
Data from the US department of Agriculture shows that there is a lucrative and growing market for the sugar substitutes such as Stevia.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition estimated in 2012 that up to 24 percent of the adult population in America and 12 percent of children use sugar substitutes. This translated into a US$10.5 billion in 2012, according an analysis by Markets and Markets research firm.
Already Nyanzi says he has made contacts with some traders from Canada who want to be supplied with dried Stevia leaves in large quantities at a handsome price of Ushs 30,000 per kilo.
And yet, Stevia is not the only high value crop being promoted by Nyanzi’s Prof Bioresearch company.
Others plants he is helping to grow as well as multiply using tissue culture technique, include Chocolate mint – which is used to add flavour to the popular Colgate brand tooth paste. He also has in store Spear mint, which is used for flavouring chewing gum. Both plants contain chemicals that kill bacteria in the mouth and thus help in preventing tooth decay.
For anti-mosquito repellents, he extracts and sells eucalyptus and citronella oils. He developed two clay products that are used for amplifying the effect of oils by enabling the buyers to slowly warm up a small mixture of water and oil. The sweet smell of heated water/vapour that goes off the fabricated banner acts as a mask for carbon dioxide which attracts mosquitoes.
Nyanzi’s innovations are not just a prospect for a promising and bigger business for him, they are already helping him to put food on the table. Every Fridays and Saturday, he sells his products to high end buyers such as diplomats and the expatriate community in two different locations in Kampala.
While his skills and entrepreneurial abilities have shone through at such a young age, chances of ensuring that he grows his business in the years ahead may suffer from his disbelief in securing his innovations using an existing intellectual property regime that allows a creator like him to legally protect his discovery.
Nyanzi says he tried to secure intellectual property rights over his products but failed because of a corrupt, disorganised and unclear administration at the Uganda Services Registration Bureau (URBS).
“I once sought the advice of a senior scientist in Uganda in an effort to protect my intellectual property and the next thing I knew was that he had pirated my product and had put it on market. I have since left everything to God,” he says.
From the look of things, his diverse skills set, combined with entrepreneurship will propel Nyanzi for greater heights.