Abundant sunshine and rainfall make southern and central Uganda an ideal place for growing fruit. For many small scale farmers in this region, tropical fruits, such as pineapple and bananas, are the primary source of income. But although bananas and pineapples grow well in the fertile soil, they do not yield very high prices in the local market. A glut of fruit on the market keeps prices low and poor transportation systems cause much fruit to perish before it can reach its final destination.
And so in 1987, Fruits of the Nile (FON) was created to process the farmers’ fruit and export the dried fruit to foreign markets where farmers make considerably more money from the sales. By selling dried, rather than fresh, fruit, they experience far fewer losses and the costs of transporting the lighter fruit are much lower.
In 1997, Fruits of the Nile Growers Association (FONA) was created to set up and administer Organic and Fairtrade systems, which would open up more markets for the farmers. Today, FONA represents about 700 farmers organized into five producer groups. About a third of these members grow pineapples and the other two thirds grow bananas. About a tenth of the farmers also run small businesses solar drying their fresh fruits. The farmer groups sell their solar dried fruits to Fruits of the Nile who grade and pack all fruit ready for export at their factory in Njeru, near Jinja, Uganda.
FON and FONA have been promoting the solar drying of fruit since their creation. The farmers use very simple wooden dryers which tap the sun to dry the fruit. Sliced fruit is laid out on plastic mesh trays inside the dryer, and dried by the sun. In addition, solar drying has minimal environmental impact using renewable energy, retaining waste at the point where it is grown, and minimizing transport costs by transporting fruit only when it has been dried – and in bulk.
FON provides loans to the farmers to cover the costs of the solar dryers and with FONA oversees quality control, safe and hygienic food handling, and organic production. In 2011, they both received Fair Trade certification from FLO International. In August 2009, FONA delivered its first organic shipment of 15 tons of dried fruit to Europe. In 2008, FON won an Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy identifying them as one of the pioneering renewable energy projects from Africa, Asia and Latin America. This award is testament to their dedication in ‘bringing real social and economic benefits to their local communities.’ The Ashden Award is the world’s leading green energy prize.