Diaspora sojourn: Kenyan builds experience in trading coffee in Uganda


Kenyan High Commissioner to Uganda Maj General George Owino (third left) and Alfred Anthony Mwangi (third right), co-founder of Shamba Bora, an agribusiness specialising in grain handling and trade, and other members of the company when the diplomat toured the facility in Kiryandongo district in Uganda. PHOTO | POOL

Alfred Anthony Mwangi left Kenya for Uganda 22 years ago as a fresh graduate and has never looked back.

In those two decades, he found a home and built invaluable experience trading coffee in Uganda.

He has scaled the career and entrepreneurial ladder, starting from being a graduate trainee at the then financially troubled Lonrho Group Kampala to a top executive of one of Uganda’s biggest agricultural commodity traders, and now a shareholder-cum-managing director of Shamba Bora Ltd, an agribusiness focused in food systems and bioenergy supporting food security agenda within the region. 

Late last month Mr Mwangi marked a key highlight of his diaspora sojourn when he hosted Kenya’s High Commissioner to Uganda, Major General George Owinow, as he toured food production and trading companies based in the north of the neighbouring country.

Read: Building a sustainable coffee business one bean at a time

It has been a long, eventful journey for Mwangi, who left Kenya after graduating in 2000 from Moi University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics.

As an undergraduate student he had, in 1998 and 1999, undertaken two industrial attachments in Nairobi with Lonrho, the Africa-focused, British multinational engaged in diverse sectors of the economy such as agribusiness, infrastructure, transport, and hospitality.

His engagements with Lonrho saw him travel to Kampala in August 2001 to take up an internship position, but his stay with the then financially troubled firm was short-lived.

He did not see a future at Lonrho and three years later packed his bags, ready to return home.

“Then a friend of mine called me and told me to expect a call from somebody,” said Mr Mwangi in a recent Zoom interview with the Business Daily.

That somebody happened to be a renowned Ugandan entrepreneur with varied agribusiness interests.

“It was just the opportune meeting,” said Mr Mwangi, who shelved his plans of returning to Kenya and took up a job at Savanah Commodities.

He worked at Savannah for 13 years, beginning 2005 to 2018, rising to the position of General Manager and growing the balance sheet from Sh291 million ($2 million) to Sh2.9 billion ($20 million) during this time, turning over Sh2.6 billion ($18 million) revenue.

After a shareholding and name change from Savannah Commodities to Grainpulse Ltd in 2018, Mr Mwangi realised that his association with his friend and mentor had matured, and was time to venture out.

In 2021 he acquired shareholding in Shamba Bora Ltd, an agribusiness specialising in grain handling and trade, biomass production and trade as well as farmers aggregation and finding access to formal markets.

Among Shamba Bora’s high-profile clientele include Uganda Breweries Limited, Equitorial Nuts Processors, and Farmers Choice.

He co-owns the business with another partner and his mission in the past three years has been to expand the scope of the business, with coffee trading being a key revenue earner.

While the focus remains on East Africa, and particularly exports to Kenya, he sees the Chinese market as particularly enticing.

He has taken trade tours to China and has no doubt that is where the future is for coffee traders. Tea and chocolate have been the favourite beverages for the Chinese, but Mr Mwangi senses a tidal shift in their changing consumer tastes.

A recent visit to the province of Henan revealed the heavy infrastructure set up for coffee distribution, with a welcoming bureaucracy.

“They have just started drinking coffee. It is one huge market, if they all decided to consume coffee we’d have a crisis,” said Mr Mwangi.

For Kenyan coffee farmers to benefit from this emerging market, he says, the government will need to relax regulations that largely favour big marketing companies to the detriment of small-scale farmers.

While it costs about Sh145 million ($1 million) to secure a coffee marketing license in Kenya, Ugandans need only about Sh4.4 million (about $30,000).

Also read: Co-op society invests extra Sh200 million in coffee arm

More coffee marketing organisations with direct access to overseas markets should be licensed in Kenya to spur competition and ensure maximum benefit for farmers, he said.

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