How Yalelo navigated set-up in Uganda during Covid

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2020 was a tough year for businesses and individuals worldwide because of the disruptions occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic. Lockdowns and curfew brought businesses at a standstill. The situation was even trickier for enterprises that were in start-up phase.

Yalelo Uganda is one such enterprise that was in the start-up phase when COVID began to spread.  Despite this, Yalelo has managed to successfully navigate the tough terrain during their start-up phase.

Yalelo Uganda is a subsidiary of First Wave Group, Africa’s number one producer of sustainably raised tilapia with operations in three African countries, and supplying many more. In Uganda, the company has been operational for the past 12 months. According to Piers Mudd, the Yalelo Uganda Chief Executive Officer, the impact of Covid-19 has not been devastating to the business.

“We consider ourselves extremely fortunate, largely due to the timing of the project. We have been in the construction phase over the course of the last year and only at the midpoint of the year has the company shifted to a very operational footing,” he says.

It is not that there were no disruptions though. Yalelo had to adjust to the circumstances before them. “Through very diligent preparation, contingency planning, excellent forward thinking and co-ordination by a very strong management team, we got ourselves organised so that there was a minimal amount of disruption to our construction activities,” Mudd says.

The company accommodated the workers to ensure they restricted contact with the community, thereby reducing the risk of contracting COVID and also to avoid encumbrances like limited mobility occasioned by the lockdown and curfew.

“To ensure continuity of operations during especially challenging times, we developed procedures to ensure that welfare was maintained at the highest possible levels, that our workers were fed, they were accommodated and looked after in the best and safest possible way,” he says.

The company has gone from a construction site to fully fledged operations and Engineering Manager Bitsinze Nkurunzira describes the process.

“In a short period of time, we have been able to put up a world class operation and the biggest aquaculture facility in the country. From the cages in the lake to the hatchery, major structures such as our Office Headquarters, engineering department, feed warehouse, and a canteen that sits over 100 people, processing factory and more” he says.

Kicking off operations amidst Covid-19

Once they started operations, the company set up strong protocols and procedures to avert the contraction of Covid-19 within the workforce. Yalelo already employees over 300 people and they have so far opened more than 10 fish shops between Kampala and Jinja. It was paramount that employees and business associates are kept safe.

“We are a funded organisation primarily from impact investment funds in Europe. That means that our approach to all aspects of environmental, health, safety, social and community aspect of our business are taken very seriously.

“Yalelo has a well-established culture of health and safety good practice, and at the operating level we have established rigorous health and safety protocols to ensure that all our operations are conducted in a truly safe and responsible fashion, ensuring that none of our employees can come to any harm during the course of their business,” Mudd says.

On top of enforcing Standard Operating Procedures set by the Ministry of Health, including mask wearing, social distancing, washing hands and sanitizing, both at their headquarters and retail outlets, the company has an internal Covid task force.

“We meet on a regular basis, we share communication across the company on a weekly basis, on the status of Covid both internationally, and also within Uganda so that everybody within the organisation is aware at all times about the status of this virus,” Mudd says.

He adds that the company is not being complacent and has put up measures for any eventualities.

“We don’t know yet when Covid will be a thing of the past, and therefore for us to ensure that we are as best prepared as possible, we contingency plan and prepare for the possibility that there may be a further lockdown period in the future and that we are adequately prepared for that kind of a scenario,” he says.


The operations

Yalelo, prides itself in producing Uganda’s freshest fish that is raised in cages set up on Lake Victoria. Their process begins with breeding and raising their fish in hatcheries, before being transferred to cages in the fresh waters of Lake Victoria.

“In the hatchery and even on the lake, we feed our fish on top quality feed which we manufacture ourselves. We do this with the aim of giving our customers not only the freshest fish, but also fish that is a rich protein source,” says Cathy Nalukwago, the Hatchery supervisor.

Upon maturity, the fish is then harvested, processed following world standards and taken to retail outlets across the country, ready for consumption.


Community engagement

Yalelo has had a positive impact on the Butembe area where they are located and the Buikwe district community at large. “We take our community engagement very seriously. We conduct regular meetings with local community leadership, we listen and action any concerns they may have,” Mudd says.

The bulk of their employees are from the area. They have set up a community borehole for residents to access clean water and also community latrines. There are plans to set up a community health center in the next year.

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