Worker sifting out detritus from the wheat grain in the new mill.

I have a friend here in Uganda who has begun a milling business. Private industry in Uganda is always fascinating to see up close because it is gives such insight into the daily lives of the people. Since the economy for the average citizen is still largely agricultural, most grains and corn-related produce must be milled before it can be used. He has started slowly and expanded with his profits, which is the best way to build a business, and he is now moving to a larger space and improving the quality and capacity of his operation, so things are going well.

The siftings fall onto the floor to be later shoveled into another pile and later mixed.

Americans like to large-scale such operations, but Ugandans often don’t have that luxury due to cost. Labor remains cheap with unemployment as high as 45%, with most of that group unable to get any kind of employment other than day jobs, so the reality is that it’s simply more cost effective for the small businessman to do much of the labor by hand because the pay is cheap.

We entered the rough brick building that he is moving into to find a large mostly empty space with huge piles of milled grains waiting to be mixed sitting here and there on the dirt floor. He has not yet moved his milling machines to this location. Other than sacks full of unmilled grain lining two walls, the room was otherwise empty except for one woman sifting a grainy mix into a finer mix.

Her hands fly back and forth over the grain to push it through the screen but pause every now and then to pluck a rock or piece of wood from the mix.

The worker was pouring the unsifted grain onto the top of a primitive looking boxed screen, then using her hands to sift the material through the screen onto a pile on the floor underneath. She was removing rocks, trash, and anything that didn’t qualify as “grain” from the mix.

The current best seasonal profit seems to be for animal feeds. The bags we saw are full of leftover grain husks from a beer brewery which makes wheat beer. These husks are a throwaway byproduct of the beer factory, which has used all they are going to use to make their beer, then sells the remains to local mills like this one.

My friend will sift the leftover wheat husks, then mix it with maize flour (ground corn) and other nutrients like silverfish, small fish from Lake Victoria that grow by the billions in the deep waters of the lake. Once mixed together, he will mill all of this together into a grainy product that will be used to feed livestock – pigs, chickens, turkeys, and cattle.

Large pile of milled maize (corn) waiting to be mixed in with the wheat grain.

My friend hopes eventually to be able, after building the business up enough, to support his family from this mill, and have money left to invest in his ministry. It is hard work, takes a lot of focus and planning, and faces an uncertain African economy, but he is closer to his goal each time I come to Uganda.