TNDQuestions: Jackie Arinda —Jada Coffee CEO on building a personal brand, hard work, and more
Hosted by Milton Emmy Akwam
Jackie, welcome to the program, TNDQuestions . A lot of media outlets have hosted you, interviewed you and you are a media personality yourself. Tell our audience what they don’t know about you?
Jackie: That I’m still a brand in the making—Madam CEO and did not go to the best schools as rated by Ugandans. Building a personal brand for yourself is more imperative than you may think. When you hear the word branding, you may think about it only in terms of a business and not as something you need personally. However, establishing a personal brand is very important and will help you advance down your career path. To me, in this era, this very important hand has opened doors I never thought I could open with any other key.
You are almost clocking 30 years old and you seem to have done a lot in the last one and half decades. What has been central in your journey to where you are now?
Jackie: I must say I have always aimed at being the best and accomplishing my work at all times, so this was always elevating me to another level. If you focus on that, then you will find yourself achieving more. However, I must say I have made very many mistakes, which have also taught me a lesson, so I am proud that I had to go through that experience and had time to correct them. In most cases, we regret our mistakes, but without them, you wouldn’t learn. To the person reading this, if you are in your 20s, please try to live and take notes from every series of your life. Ask yourself if you’ve learned anything new.
You are the CEO of Jada Coffee, one of the deluxe coffee brands in Uganda, I am told. Why did you choose the name “Jada”?
Jackie: Jada is my name. I wanted something that will leave a legacy for all generations.
How much did you have in your money purse when starting this business? And you could tell us the worth of your business now.
Jackie: I started this business with just UGX7, 000,000 and this is not pocket change, but I had to decide to either save it or make something out of it, and here it is. It is now worth more than UGX7, 000,000. Come back in 3 years and ask me this same question. I will give you the figures.
Ugandans consume fewer coffees, and this is a fact. How has this affected your business now that export is somehow affected because of Covid-19 pandemic and people are only buying what they must?
Jackie: On the contrary, Uganda exported a record of more than 6 million coffee bags in the financial year 2020-2021, the highest total for 12 months in 30 years. Exports for Financial Year 20/21 were worth $559m (more than Shs1.9 trillion) compared to 5.11m bags worth $496m (about Shs1.7 trillion) in Financial Year 19/20. Uganda exported over 6 million coffee bags in the fiscal year 2020-2021, fetching us $559m. This was the highest export in three decades.
However, domestic consumption levels, or what we call the home markets, dropped because of the COVID-19 lockdown, which led to the closure of hotels and cafes and restricted movement of people. All this meant freezing, postponing or cancelling of contracts between coffee farmers and their buyers.
This has left us with a lot of debts and affects the entire value chain, from the farmers on the farm to the waitress who saves the coffee in a certain cafe.
Unlike other cash crops grown almost countrywide, coffee growing is restricted to specific regions; there are other weather conditions needed for its wellness. With demand for coffee growing extensively amidst Covid-19, what are your immediate and long-term plans?
Jackie: Uganda is not short of good coffee or land to cultivate it, so I am not worried about quantity but quality. Coffee quality is associated with pre-harvest and post-harvest management activities. The quality of the cupping is determined at each stage, beginning with the selection of the best coffee variety for plantation and ending with the final coffee drink preparation.
The factors which involve changes in the physicochemical properties and sensorial attributes, including post-harvest operations, influence the overall coffee quality. Post-harvest processing activities contribute about 60% of the quality of green coffee beans.
The post-harvest operations include pulping, processing, drying, hulling, cleaning, sorting, grading, storage, roasting, grinding, and cupping. This chapter comprises the harvest and post-harvest operations of coffee and their impacts on coffee quality.
Few Ugandans understand this, and generally, this has been a general challenge to the agriculture sector. Jada Coffee, in partnership with different organizations and farmers, organizes trainings for the above-mentioned stages of quality assurance, and currently it is working. We are currently limited by finances; otherwise, we would be reaching out to bigger numbers. I call upon Gen. Salim Saleh and the government to invest more in training, break it down to a layman’s language, and use all media platforms, including radio and digital, if we are to improve the quality of our agricultural products.
What strategies can farmers take up to increase high yields and to get value for their sweats?
Jackie: High yields do not guarantee high earnings from coffee. I believe that value addition and exporting are the fastest ways for farmers to earn from their sweat. Africa is a key player in the production of coffee but is at the bottom when it comes to consumption. This means any farmer who wants to earn a high income must produce coffee at a global standard. This includes setting marketing strategies and producing quality for the global market.
However, the following can help in increasing yields. The return of composed pulp or trash will serve as a mulch to conserve moisture as well as provide a source of nutrients. Maintenance of strong roots and strong growth through good pest and disease control, the use of shelters, and careful husbandry, ensures maximum coffee productivity and fruit fill.
Regular pruning is essential to thicken the tree structure and produce new branch growth with a greater number of berries. At the same time, an open canopy between trees is essential to ensure even ripening.
Ugandans youth still grapple with unemployment and they are popular. You are in this category, but self-employed. What must our young generation take up now?
Jackie: This is not a battle for the youth only, but for the government too. The government must come out and provide systems that favor young people. This includes access to finances to fund their proposals and business ideas. Most people will say that the government has done this, but I can assure you that the requirements to access these funds are way far from reality.
The youths have no collateral and the interest rates are too high. There is also a lot of corruption, nepotism, and embezzlement of youth funds, which need to be cleaned up. However, young people also need to focus on being better and starting small. I have seen fresh graduates turn down a job of UGX 500,000 because they want UGX3,000,000. Life is a journey, so starting small will earn you an experience, placing you in the circles of opportunities. This is where you grow your social capital. A little extra hard work is needed. Knock on all the doors until someone opens them, but do not give up. Use your digital platforms to market yourself. Use them to your advantage.
Recently, in your words: “Had a fruitful meeting with Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba about supporting youths owned companies and securing them big contracts as they grow…” Will this solve the problems youth face now, and how many are to benefit, mode of selection?
Jackie: I am not sure what you mean by this statement, but Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba supports the youths as an individual who has capacity, just like any other Ugandan, not as first son or Lt. Gen. as many assume. He believes that young people in Uganda represent the future of this country. He also believes we have a vital role to play in the country’s development, a duty we must perform. In our meeting, he emphasized that it is also essential to note that young people must also believe in themselves, that they can become a major asset both individually and collectively to national development if they work hard. I’m sure you saw his contribution to saving our National Basketball team recently.
The mode of selection is the same or better than the one you used to give me this interview. It includes groups of youths of all genders and PWDs from all parts of Uganda.
You are using social media like Twitter to preach wonderful messages of hard work, compassion and telling people what to do, but above all, to love their country—Uganda. There could be those against your “preaching” and have you been abused online for that?
Jackie: To some, social media is a place to vent their rage, bully others, or start wars with people they’ve always wanted to fight with, but to me, it’s a network of connections, opportunities, a market for my services and products, and a platform to sell my country. I do not see myself stopping.
You love politics, but business takes it all [this is a joke]. In President Museveni, do you see in him a man whose government will empower youth, offer them grants [affordable loans] to start or boost their ventures?
Jackie: He has already done that, but his people, or should I call it a system, have failed him, but that does not mean we have not seen the fruits of his contribution. He is a good leader but lacks loyal, devoted people to implement his plans. There is a need for a change in approach if we are to have more fruit.
Before we conclude, what are you expecting to achieve or see as a major milestone in the next two years?
Jackie: To open Jada Coffee Cafes at least two  branches upcountry.
And finally, what general message do you have for Ugandans?
Jackie: Uganda has issues that need to be corrected, but that is not an excuse to fail. There are people that have made it in this same government, including the same politicians that oppose this government. Therefore, you need to work hard and be better. Utilize all the opportunities and connections you have, but most importantly, support one another in developmental things.
EDITORIAL: TNDQuestions is a prime program of TND News, Northern Uganda’s first digital newspaper. WhatsApp: + 752 169 448.