RUCID: this small organic food business thinks big
Based in Uganda, the company started to implement life cycle thinking in 2014 with support from the UNEP / SETAC Life Cycle Initiative. Its conviction is that sustainable innovation is a key approach to increase competitiveness in the growing global market for organic food products.
Employing 17 people, Rural Community in Development (RUCID) processes and sells fruit juices and sun-dried fruit crisps, under the brand “Rucifresh”. The majority of its fruit juice is marketed locally in Uganda, while some orders of dried fruit are exported to Europe and Kenya.
A former NGO, RUCID also disseminates knowledge and best practices in organic agriculture to smallholder farmers, and manages an agricultural college to train young farmers and future agriculture professionals.
Getting ready for export
Standards and certifications play a crucial role in providing legitimacy to claims made about organic food products. The main markets are the United States and Europe, the latter also being Africa’s largest market for agricultural products. (FiBL-IFOAM Survey 2015)
To prepare its products for exports, RUCID is compliant with existing EU regulations (article 29 (1) of EC reg. 834/07), and is certified by the Uganda National Bureau of standards. The company implemented ISO/TS/14067, which has enabled quantification and communications of the carbon footprint of its products. The company benefits from a governmental regulatory context that supports organic smallholder farmers (see box below).
“The organic market requires constant certification, and as RUCID’s production processes lacked the required technology, the quantity for export could sometimes be a limiting factor,” explains Samuel Nyanzi, CEO of RUCID, and one of the founders of the National Organic Movement of Uganda.
A “hotspot” strategy to improve processes
The company benefited from a UNEP / SETAC Life Cycle Initiative programme, designed to help SMEs and small businesses build their capacity to implement a life cycle approach. RUCID received the support of a Life Cycle Management coach, Paul Walakira, an expert also involved in the Uganda National Bureau of Standards.
Energy and waste were identified as two “hotspots” to focus on, in order to optimize efforts and results. Consequently a study about the energy balance and waste inventory for the fruit-processing factory was carried out.
The maturity level for implementing life cycle management at RUCID was assessed. Subsequent tailored training was organised at all levels of the company: board, management and facility workers. Training covered data collection, reporting for energy use and waste generation.
“A key success factor at RUCID was the management vision that sees sustainability initiatives as a strategy for retaining existing customers and for developing new business”, acknowledged Paul Walakira. “RUCID’s management was also well aware that fruit residues’ disposal and use, as well as for energy use, could be improved in order to be ready to grasp business opportunities on their growing market.”
Improving profitability and resource use
A major finding of the energy study was that 19 % of energy was sourced from biomass, and that 90 % of that biomass-based energy was related to burning firewood for the sterilization process. This was costly and the smoke altered the products’ taste.
RUCID shifted to biogas and put in place an anaerobic digester, which allowed using fruit residues as a new source of energy, thus closing the loop from a “linear” to “circular” process.
A more energy-efficient wood-burning stove was designed, which allowed reducing firewood requirements by 50%. RUCID also started using a solar water heater to heat the water used to wash the fruit. The improvements implemented created cost savings enabling RUCID to achieve a USD 95,000 annual revenue for in the financial year of 2013-2014, compared with USD 76,000 in 2012-2013.
The waste inventory made RUCID more aware of previously discarded fruit residues. Pineapple crowns eventually became an additional source of revenue, by planting them to make pineapple suckers to be sold to farmers.
New additional sales also include fertilizer produced out of the fruit residues used by the anaerobic digester. Part of the fruit residue is now used to supply the anaerobic digester.
Whereas RUCID was previously carrying fruits on a small pick-up vehicle, the company bought a truck, enabling bulk transport of raw material, thus saving costs and emissions.
More informed decision-making and greater credibility
Following the UNEP / SETAC Life Cycle Initiative project, RUCID improved on the one hand efficiency of its production processes and on the other hand skills of its staff and management. The whole company has integrated the notion that “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”, and developed a culture of record keeping and analysis.
RUCID’s CEO also points at benefits in terms of credibility: “It also helps us make our points of view about organic production acceptable to those who were unable to take organic production seriously. When we made public the findings and proposed interventions about what we implemented, it attracted more customers to our business, thus improving our market share and reputation.”
RUCID regularly collaborates with Kyambogo University, Makerere University, the National Bureau of Standards and National Organic Movement of Uganda. While implementing the UNEP / SETAC Life Cycle Initiative’s programme, RUCID also involved three other companies of similar size and sector, FLONA Commodities, Soleil Enterprises and Jalamba organic processors and training center.
A benchmark study was carried out with them, to better identify hotspots to work on. Achievements and findings, especially regarding energy saving and waste management were shared with those companies. As a specific need for better record keeping was identified, RUCID organised training on data collection and energy use calculation with the three companies.
A former NGO, RUCID disseminates knowledge and skills among smallholder farmers, and trains young students at their agricultural college. The acquired knowledge and experience with life cycle thinking could thus be disseminated in curriculums and trainings.
With the support of the European Commission