Over the next few weeks, Project Diaspora will be covering the plight of Uganda’s aloe vera farmers who are trying to find international markets for their product. Part 1 of Project Aloe is an overview of how I personally got involved. Subsequent articles will provide more details into the challenges of trying to assist these farmers.
An open letter to Hajji Ali Sessanga:
Dear Dan/Hajji Ali Sessanga,
I write to inform you that Project Diaspora recently started to cover the plight of Uganda’s aloe vera farmers. We’ve had the story on our desk since September of 2007 and have been in the process of educating ourselves about the world-wide aloe vera industry. Recently we went public with what we know so far and in the coming weeks, we will be updating the series as more information develops. In our research, your organization, Uganda Commercial Aloe Vera Association, was identified as responsible for the introduction of aloe vera into Uganda (specifically, aloe barbadensis miller, a variety common to our state of residence, Texas)
It has come to our attention that you sold these seedlings to thousands of Ugandan farmers, at what we consider a premium. We’ve also followed your efforts to engage the global markets for a partnership since 2005. However, we are unable to determine what your “go-to-market” strategy is. It seems that you’ve shifted your strategies since you got engaged in this project:
In 2005, your were in search of a “development partners who can invest in the extraction of aloe vera.”
Two years later, you announced that your association had received funding for a processing plant worth over 1Bn Ush, and that you were increasing aloe production. Not too long after that, you announced that you had begun exporting aloe vera seedlings to neighboring countries. In the months since we got the story, we’ve grown suspicious of your methods and hence have a lot of questions which we feel need answers directly from you in order to properly asses how big Uganda’s aloe vera industry is, and what it will take to properly serve the thousands of farmers that you have left stranded.
Did you in fact get the funding?
If so, what was the total amount of funding that you received.
You have been quoted giving contradictory sums. From $300,000 all the way to $600,000.
What price are you offering the farmers for the aloe leaves? aloe seedlings?
Our research indicates that you were offering up to 3,000 shillings per Kg. for the leaves. We have also discovered that you are buying aloe vera seedlings from the very farmers that you sold aloe vera seedlings to for the purposes of exporting them to Japanese and Korean, Congolese, UK and Kenyan markets. How much are you buying them back from the farmers? How much have you bought, and which districts in Uganda are you concentrating your purchases? How much have you exported?
If you did receive funding, who was your funding partner, and has the processing plant been constructed?
Show me the money!
You collected membership fees. You charged a premium for the seedlings and you were presumably the only supplier of aloe barbadensis seedlings in the country (a virtual monopoly). Basic math calculations conclude that you earned more than the magic $600,000 that it costs for the type of plant you promised to bring to Uganda. In other words, we are confused as to why you needed funding in the first place when you earned more than enough money to single-handedly bring an entire processing facility to Uganda. What happened to all that money that you charged your fellow Ugandans?
If so, where is it located?
All the news organizations that have reported on this story, have either failed to report on the location of your facility or have not followed up as to the whereabouts of this facility and how farmers can find it in order to bring their aloe vera raw materials to your facility for purchase.
What is its processing capacity?
You’ve reported that you received funding for a processing facility worth $600.00, and that “Uganda’s Aloe Vera acreage coverage is 380 hectares (912 acres). If this is in fact, true, then your facility should have the capability to process up to 55,000 Kg of aloe vera daily! In other words, you should be able to process the entirety of Uganda’s aloe vera acreage on a monthly basis. If this is so, why is there an entire District (nearly 900 Masindi farmers) stuck with a rotting supply of aloe vera in their gardens a full two years past the date you promised to come back and purchase it. And what of the Karamoja farmers?
What method are you using to process the aloe? How are you storing it?
Our research indicates that the best processing method is cold processing, as it is the best method to preserve a majority of the active enzymes that make the aloe vera such a potent health plant. This method of course, is energy-dependent. As you know Uganda and most of East Africa is energy-strapped. How are you overcoming this production hurdle?
Our research also indicates that in order for aloe to enter the international markets, it has to go through a stringent certification process by The International Aloe Council. This certification involves not only certification of the raw materials but the processing facility as well. Have you in fact, been able to receive international certification for all of this aloe that you have exporting to international buyers? If so, why hasn’t this been reported?
There are many more questions of course, but we thought these few questions urgently needed to be addressed in order for us to fully address the state of Uganda’s aloe vera industry. We would appreciate a response on the matter to clarify what we hope to be a simple case of under reporting by the general media. We would hate to label you as a con man when in fact you are an enterprising Ugandan that’s run into an international road block in getting a major cash crop on the international market. I am sure thousands of stranded Ugandan farmers will appreciate answers to these very questions, after they have only been waiting for 4 years since you took all their money.
You are free to leave us a reply in the comments below. We will publish your responses on our site so that the answers are freely available to all interested parties.
What’s your real name? You have been identified as Dan Sessanga as well as Hajji Ali Sessanga. Which is it?