They say problems are not that bad after all they push humans to make the world a better place when solutions are put in place. It is something similar to keeping positive in the face of difficulties just to get over them. Like any other Ugandan, Samuel Nuwagaba found a good problem that has taken him places he would have never expected.
Samuel Nuwagaba - Team Lead at Sam's Paper
Nuwagaba is a team leader at his own company, Sam’s Paper Production, which deals in recycling and processing of agricultural waste fibers especially that from banana fibers, pineapple leaves, bagasse and much more into biodegradable handmade paper for paper products like shopping bags, gift bags, promotional bags, gift boxes, paper trays, table mats, paper baskets and seasonal cards.
It has grown with time with more to come as they keep strategising at their offices located at the Uganda Industrial Research Institute, Nakawa Mukabya Road Plot 42A.
How it started
Around 2015, Nuwagaba was pushing through life,living in one of the Kampala suburbs. He made frequent trips to a nearby ‘chapati’ stand because of his love for the recipe. With time he had some feedback for the business owner after they had grown fond of each other with daily interactions. “ I did not like the idea of my snacks being packed in a transparent plastic bag which exposed whatever I was carrying. I asked whether something would be done by providing better packaging,” recalls Nuwagaba.
His plea fell on deaf ears as nothing was done but it gave Nuwagaba something to think about. He saw an opportunity which he grabbed with both hands by being creative. “I went back home and thought about a transparent kaveera replacement and a paper bag came to mind,” Within days, Nuwagaba started collecting old and waste paper to turn them into something useful.
The results were amazing as he chunned out one paper bag after another. “Just like that, I started making paper bags from waste papers.” The products were out and it was time to look for buyers. Nuwagaba recalls going back to the chapati vendor and convincing him to buy some paper bags, he did buy some to become one of Nuwagaba’s first buyers.
On one afternoon as Nuwagaba went about his new paper bag venture, he came across a restaurant that was interested in purchasing packaging bags. Unfortunately, they were put off by his choice of material. “ I was therefore advised to source good materials from the market if I wanted to take my trade to the next level,” he says. It was from there that he got introduced to craft paper products imported from India, Kenya, China among other countries. It gave him more experience and knowledge thus enhancing his skills and imagination. “I continued making the paper bags from craft papers and advanced to customising them with animal prints which attracted customers in craft shops,” says Nuwagaba whose products were catching the eye of tourists.
He then started showcasing his products at several exhibitions and it was at one of them that he got a major breakthrough. “ During one such exhibition at my local church, the former Executive Director of the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), Mr. Steven Asiimwe, approached my stall and was impressed by my products,” he says. Asiimwe went on to refer Nuwagaba to the Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI) which gave him a platform to dream bigger.
In 2017, Nuwagaba joined (UIRI) as an Incubate for Pulp and Handmade Paper Technology and later in the same year formally registered his Sam’s Paper Production company with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB). With the help and stewardship of the incubation program, Sam’s Paper Production started manufacturing customised products from banana fibres. The catchy gift and promotional bags along with the gift boxes sold the business and the clientele grew.
His good works saw a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) known as African Human Resource Initiative Strategies (AHRIS) request Nuwagaba to conduct vocational skills training for refugees, women and youth at a resettlement camp in Kiryandongo. The trainees were equipped with skills in making eco-friendly paper products such as paper baskets, paper trays, paper dustbins and paper jewelry as a way of creating employment opportunities and a livelihood.
For five years , Sam’s Paper Production has navigated the tides with both good and unforgiving experiences. The company faces a number of challenges just like any other small and medium enterprise. Inadequate funds to purchase handmade paper machinery to scaleup is perhaps the biggest of them all, it is common knowledge that lack of funds can affect or even lead to the downfall of a business.
Nuwagaba is tasked with working under a limited budget on top of tabling credible products. Nuwagaba also faces fierce competition from both local and foreign producers. “ Hand made paper bag making in Uganda has been challenged by the imported products from China and India which are sold cheaply compared to the local handmade papers,” he laments. While there is some growth in the market, Nuwagaba is of the view that most Ugandans refuse to embrace using packaging paper bags because of the availability of polyethene bags which are sold cheaply on the market.
Growth and Achievements
While Nuwagaba employs a group of five at Sam’s Paper Production, the company is involved in creating over 100 direct and indirect job opportunities among youths and women . Farming communities have also gained from Nuwagaba’s establishment as they sell off raw materials. One of his best feelings is teaching others what he loves doing, he is empowering many other youths in production of handmade paper and related products. In a world threatened by the consequences of climate change, the organisation can be proud of playing a role in conserving the environment through recycling waste papers, waste cotton and waste banana fibres.
For Nuwagaba, there is a lot more that can be achieved with improved paper production machinery and mass sensitisation or training on different necessary skills. “ The paper industry in Uganda is growing at a slow pace largely because of the difficulty in acquiring proper machinery for paper production and recruiting as many people as resources can allow, “ urges an enthusiastic Nuwagaba who dreams of a time when the public will have a clear understanding of the arts and craft ideology. He thinks many ride on whatever they hear thus ending up with strange views.
“People in Uganda look down on the art and craft industry because they think it is meant for the less privileged and uneducated,” reasons Nuwagaba who thinks that if the public adopted the right mindset on the sector, the economy would gain. The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities with the craft industry can in future be one of the biggest employers and source of revenue from both local and international markets. It is all possible but the journey remains a long one although Nuwagaba is willing to be part of it through thick and thin.
“As a stakeholder my contribution is to continue skilling as many Ugandans as I can in the industry to be able to produce competitive products on the world market. I will also keep sensitizing the public regarding mind set change towards the art and craft industry in our country,” he promises like any other artist pushing for the industry’s growth.
Written by : Deusdedit Bugembe
HOW TO REACH: Sam's Paper Production
This article was produced as part of the Handicraft Souvenir and Development Project implemented by the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities and the International Trade Centre funded by the Enhanced Integrated Framework .