A student at Uganda’s Makerere University joins the fight against malaria, making a mosquito repellant from spoilt milk. Besides putting a smile on farmers’ faces, she is also charting new territory in the local
skin lotion and soap market.
By Lucy Githugo, bird story agency
By her own admission, 20-year-old Jovia Kisaakye, a Makerere University business statistics student, has been a restless soul since
she was 12.
It was then that she began looking for solutions to a problem that led to tragedy in her family.
Growing up in the Ugandan town of Lukaya, Kisaakye’s family depended on animal farming for their daily income and general sustenance. For the animals to have a constant supply of water for drinking, her parents dug trenches to trap rainwater. While this solved the water problem, it created another problem – the trenches became a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Young Kisaakye often missed school because of frequent malaria attacks. And though the family, like their neighbours, somehow lived through the pain of malaria, when Kisaakye’s younger brother was five, he died from the disese.
The young boy’s death forced the family to abandon cattle rearing, their only source of livelihood.
For Kisaakye, the decision to abandon cattle rearing came as a relief. Not just because she associated it with the death of her brother and frequent bouts of illness but also because of the helplessness she felt at seeing so much milk going to waste after it was not sold. This was due to a lack of power and storage facilities.
It was agonising for her to watch her mother suffer, looking for other means to put food on the table after failing to sell the milk, which would regularly spoil.
The loss of her five-year-old brother to malaria, a life-threatening but preventable and curable disease, and the milk
waste and loss of income for dairy farmers due to a lack of basic coolers for the highly perishable product has haunted her ever since.
“The death of my brother was so painful that I don’t like revisiting it,” Kisaakye said, her voice cracking with emotion.
Kisaakye often wondered if there was a way she could play a role in finding a solution to not only make up for her personal and family tragedy but also to help save more lives, especially those of children; at the same time she was very aware of the need to improve farmers incomes. Her journey began to crystalise when she was 17, at high school.
“So when I finally joined Chichende High School and began taking up regular agricultural projects, my desire to utilize stale milk into useful products grew stronger,” explains Kisaakye.
According to Healthline Online publication, spoilt milk results from an overgrowth of bacteria that compromises the
quality, flavour, and texture of the highly perishable product.
The milk begins to spoil and develops an unpleasant, rancid odour. The scent is hard to miss and gets stronger with time.
At high school, Kisaakye developed an understanding of the problem and her desire to do something with her knowledge, grew. She also met two young students who would later become her business partners.
In 2019, Kisaakye was admitted to Makerere University, where she met up again with Brasio Kawere and Patrick Sseremba. The three had first met and interacted while Kisaakye was still a high school student in charge of agricultural projects and Kawere and Sseremba were already at Makerere University conducting projects at Kisaakye’s high school.
Sseremba, now a doctor at Mulago National Referral Hospital in Kampala (Kawere graduated with a degree in dental surgery), said that Kisaakye’s ambition and passion drove him to join her in her quest.
“Jovia was an ambitious young girl. Unlike many girls her age who expect parents to sustain them, she wasn’t one. She had millions of ideas in her head, and I thought of joining her in the actualization journey. She loves her work and always points me to new opportunities that I can go for,” he said.
After rigorous research, the trio learned that filtration and extraction of the liquid from the solid stale milk could indeed be used to make lotion, while the latter could be used to make fertilisers and pig feed.
In 2019, after a few tests and trials, they came up with their first prototype, named Sparkle mosquito repellant milk lotion. They obtained a $1500 grant from the Makerere University Incubation Centre to develop the project under the guidance of professors, laboratory technicians, and lecturers.
By 2020, they had launched their first marketing penetration and testing exercise to ascertain the efficacy of the lotion and improve its user acceptability.
The business venture sources 40 percent of its stale milk directly from dairy farmers, who sell a litre at the same price (700 USh) as fresh milk, thus cushioning them from losses. The remaining percentage of milk utilized is obtained from large-scale milk plants and wholesalers who fail to penetrate the market and sell at a lesser price than fresh milk.
Given the success, Kisaakye did not forget her desire to be part of the solution to ending malaria. She convinced her co-founders to engage in research to see if the success the team was having with stale milk and the lotion could be used to create a mosquito repellent.
In 2021, the team started mixing mosquito repellent organic plant extracts with stale liquid milk to make mosquito repellent.
“We made a few unstable products at first. Our lotion was 100 percent effective at repelling mosquitoes but unstable on the shelf, so we had to revise the ingredients,” recalled Kisaakye.
“A few more trials gave the product 80 percent effectiveness at repelling mosquitoes as well as stability on the shelf,” she added.
They succeeded after revising some of the ingredients they were using, and the product’s shelf-life increased. After receiving additional funding for product development and with assistance from chemists, they secured an efficient product that was certified by the Uganda National Drug Authority as safe for human use.
“Our products, which are marketed through our firm, Sparkle Agrobrand Limited, have been accepted and are now available in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, and Benin. We are keen to expand and grow our market across Africa and beyond,” says Kisaakye.
According to Sseremba, the company located in Kajjansi in Wakiso District is now worth some USD 500,000.
The company employs four full-time workers and eight part-time employees. It is also overseen by business experts from the Uganda National Chamber of Commerce, medical experts in the field of malaria as well as an agronomist.
“Without innovation, the world would be stuck with old ideas and traditional ways of doing things. Formal employment is key for the daily survival of millions of youth but for successful living, youth in Africa need to engage in entrepreneurship and build business brands that serve others,” Kisaakye said.
Almost three years since its inception, Sparkle Agrobrands has been able to attract a variety of partnerships and opportunities from multiple players in the industry. This year the company was awarded $3000 by the Regional Universities Forum for capacity building in agriculture (RUFORUM), a consortium of 148 African universities operating in 38 countries.
According to Professor Anthony Egeru, the training and community development Program Manager at RUFORUM, the company has great potential for growth, citing that it’s one of the growth-oriented enterprises.
“Uganda produces about 1.8 billion liters of milk annually, and only 800 million liters are consumed annually. As such, a whole lot of milk is not consumed. Even if the farmers receive refrigeration, a lot needs to go into processing. Any new approaches to process milk such as this is an opportunity for growth,” states Egeru.
He explained that RUFORUM young innovators are awarded through a competitive process involving phases; in this case, 1300 applications were received. Sparkle Agrobrand made it to the 20 percent applications that were further moved to adjudicators, who then evaluated the businesses further to select the final beneficiaries.
A partnership with Jumia, the leading e-commerce platform in Africa, has increased clients and market beyond Uganda. Kisaakye says the company wants to scale its production distance across Africa and beyond.
The company is currently piloting fertilizers made from stale milk on different farms in Uganda and doing laboratory tests under regulated conditions.
They’re also looking to establish a large-scale production plant and diversify their products derived from food waste.
According to Sseremba, it is because waste is causing significant environmental degradation, yet it [waste] is readily available and cheap for use.
“Young people should work hard and avoid expecting free money from the government or other bodies. Young people should also engage in research before embarking on any business venture because poor planning leads to business failure,” Sseremba said.
Despite all she has accomplished, Kisaakye, a second-year student, has had to figure out a way to balance her business and education. Together with her co-founders. The team has devised a schedule where each of them dedicates at least five hours daily to the company. They plan by scheduling weekly events, but Kisaakye also uses the internet to grow the Brand.
“Young people need to come up with solutions for the future! We need to use skills in innovation and technology to solve social problems in our society. These skills will benefit us more than waking up to look for jobs,” Kisaakye concluded.
bird story agency