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We joined the food revolution—and you can, too

Nataliey Bitature's picture
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Musana Carts, a business that provides clean, solar-powered street vending carts, aims to improve the lives of street vendors.
Musana Carts, a business that provides clean, solar-powered street vending carts, aims to improve the lives of street vendors in developing countries.

Africa’s urban areas are booming, experiencing a high urban growth rate over the last two decades at 3.5% per year. This growth rate is expected to hold into 2050. With this growth, street food is going to become one of the most important components of African diets. The formal sector will just not be able to keep up!
 
Enter my company, Musana Carts, which tackles the #FoodRevolution challenge from the end of the food value chain. Musana Carts, which currently operates in Uganda, streamlines and improves the production and consumption of street food.
 
Why did we decide to focus on street food?
 
Despite the illegal status of unlicensed street food vendors, who are regularly evicted from markets, street vending is an age old industry. Low income families spend up to 40% of their income in street food (Nri).  
 
People eat street food because it is affordable, abundant, delicious and has a local and emotional flavor. Street food plays a key role in the development of cities. It is the one place where the posh and the poor from all walks of life meet and forget their social differences for the few seconds it takes to savor a snack. 
 
Street foods tell a story. They capture the flavor of a nation and the pride of a tribe: in Uganda, the rolex, a rolled chapatti with an omelet, has been named one of the fastest growing African street foods. The minister for tourism made it the new Ugandan tourism product.
 
The latent potential for street food in Africa is huge but it still has a long way to go. Musana Carts addresses it in an innovative way, to make street vending a transformative industry in any country’s economy. We are using a user centered design approach, working closely with the street vendors to improve the carts, and design food handling and processing training as well as financial literacy tools.
Failing to improve street food could put the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands in Kampala’s informal street food sector –which is an important sector of the economy--at risk.  And it’s not just the vendors who would be impacted. The health of consumers would be jeopardized if food safety problems are not addressed. The loss of public confidence in street foods would not only jeopardize incomes of vendors but also that of their employees, as well as producers and traders of inputs.
 
Musana Carts is the bridge between street vendors, NGOs, local authorities and food standards authorities. This bridge is a clean and solar powered street vending cart. Making street vendors dependable and sustainable will improve the city as much as Ugandans’ way of life. Today, after many hours of research and negotiations, we have 10 carts running in Kampala, with 30 vendors working on them. At Musana Carts, we envision an Africa where street vendors run local businesses with dignity and prosperity.
 
A powerful way to fight unemployment

Africa is the youngest continent in the world. In Uganda, half the population is under the age of 15. Throughout the continent, youth are quickly becoming the majority. This is our Africa. We have to solve our problems and come up with opportunities and avenues for all. Young people in Africa cannot only look to governments and NGO’s for jobs, we must create jobs for ourselves and our peers. This is the only way to solve the unemployment crisis on our hands and the best way to empower our people.  
At the same time, in Africa there are 1bn+ mouths to feed. Going into the food business is both profitable and socially impactful. There will never be enough entrepreneurs in this space, especially as the population grows faster.
If you ask yourself should I go home and start my own business: Do it!  Get some friends, pool some money, find some inspiration from mentors in your life and then get started. The sooner you start the sooner you can prosper and include others in your success.

So, what does it take to start a food business in Africa? 

1. Be Flexible.
As entrepreneurs we tend to get caught up with our ideas and our passion, determined to drive our agendas and do the good work we are striving to achieve. However, listening and adapting are key. Listen to your stakeholders and work closely with your users. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes and pivoting. It’s ok to change as you grow, it means you are evolving. Design thinking has been the backbone of Musana’s ethos from day 1 and we really let our clients guide the direction of the company. 

2. Find a support system.
Being an entrepreneur is incredibly difficult in many ways- socially, financially, mentally and even on your health! Make sure you have a support system in place before you dive in to starting a company. Look after your health- eat right, drink water, exercise, get enough sleep. A burnt out founder is not useful to any community. Have people, places, activities to support your crazy lifestyle, you never know who or what you may need!

3. Eat local food.
Support your local vendors and grocers. Get to know your local food and eat it with pride. Every region is different and has different tastes, smells, cultures for eating: embrace it! If you’re going into any food business then all food is your business. Understand a bit of farming, a bit of distribution, a bit of cooking, a bit of retail. Learn what your local food eco system looks like. A breadth of understanding is driven by your interest and will make you very knowledgeable and able to support your food business better. 
 
 

Comments

Submitted by Brigitte on

Very interesting story. Can you give me a little more details on the solar carts. Thanks.

Submitted by Peter Vivian on

Quiet an amazing innovation for the African street vendors. "Safest way to eating uncontarminated street food"

Submitted by Chris Moller on

Great initiative! Small shops are a huge and under-served market.

I would like to know whether the solar power is just used for lighting? What else is the power typically used for?

Have you cracked the problem of selling hot food, using solar power?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Good

Submitted by Admasu on

very good creative idea. Do you have licence to do that? or what do you think about it?

Submitted by Dr. Hansen on

After years of research on the development of economics of West Africa it has great value to add to the Global Economy should solid and committed investment begin to produce a transition from Crude Oil and Gas to a 50% to 50% balance of economic growth between Crude Oil and Agriculture Development for Nigeria holds the key leadership in establishing this shift from Oil to Food Production. The labor source in Nigeria is in place and now its the funding resources that need direct contact with the very low income of the people. I see great potential for Nigeria and all the West Coast development States in Africa. My study shows that the African people do not want handouts they want to produce a living for themselves and their family's along with helping the very poor and this is done through Economic Local Development in each African State. Africans should never ever take a backseat to the World Economy they need to begin to take the lead for they have the resources and the people in which to produce substantial benefits for themselves and their States in Africa. I say this support for the African people because I seriously see the great potential of Africa as a future Heavy Industrial Nation that the World Industrial leaders will have to deal with in the future. Sincerely, Dr. Hansen

Submitted by kien on

this is very good valorising the african style of street food selling. i would to know more on the cart system

Submitted by Olumentain on

I want to start the food revolution in Nigeria to reduce unemployment and meet one of the basic need of human-Food

Submitted by Richard David on

Great story!

Submitted by S Wijesinha on

I believe that hygiene and healthiness also matter.

For a healthy living once in a way you could have such unique tastebuds.

Submitted by Joep Bijlmer on

Benefit from the many lessons learned in Southeast Asia, particularly those form Indonisa.

Submitted by Dr. Isaac Kofi Biney on

Very Exciting piece
It is time we in Ghana, told our story in such an exciting manner, about strides being made in the informal small businesses. I'm in love with everything innovative that Musana is doing with the informal food vendors, or if you like entrepreneurs, in Uganda. Starting small, and continually building capacity through regular training and mentor-ship, is a laudable strategy to be adopted. Kudos to brothers and sisters in Uganda!

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