Ugandan Entrepreneurship: A journey for women in agriculture

Key Details
SME Name
Hola Milk
Avg Transaction Size

Ugandan entrepreneurship has created a viable business landscape for SMEs across the region. Making up 90% of the country’s private sector, small businesses are integral to Uganda’s prosperity and drive the nation’s economic growth. At the start of 2024, AGC gained insight into how entrepreneurship is harnessed in Kampala, Uganda, particularly through the cornerstone of their economy – agriculture. Uganda’s adeptness in agricultural development includes coffee, chocolate, meats, and dairy, all of which play a key role in the lives of Ugandan business owners, especially women.[1] 

The journey to entrepreneurship

The road to Luwero District, just 80 kilometres from Kampala, holds a special significance for Ms Jovia Kagezi, as it symbolizes how her entrepreneurial ventures in the dairy sector have empowered her to provide for her loved ones. “I would wake up very early in the morning, by 5,” Jovia, who would eventually become the founder of Hola Milk, shares. “I would go to [Kihoko in Luwero District], every morning for two years and managed to sell milk every day.” Jovia goes on to describe how her full supply of milk would sell out before the end of the morning. Her introduction to the dairy industry began in the late 1990s, when she tragically became a widow at the age of just 31. Having to support her five children, Jovia saw dairy as a solution to overcoming the financial hardships burdening her family. No stranger to the weight of family responsibility, as a child she grew up having to care for her siblings, a duty made even more challenging by her father’s marriage arrangement, which included two wives and multiple children relying on her support.

Ms. Jovia Kagezi
Ms. Jovia Kagezi
Hola Milk Facility
Hola Milk Facility

Her father was a County Chief when she was a child, and they
frequently had to relocate so that he could pursue job opportunities as they arose, making her deeply familiar with the importance of supporting family. Jovia assumed the responsibility of caring for her siblings and half-siblings while frequently changing schools and playing catch-up in her education. Both experiences ultimately fostered her resilience and adaptability in the face of challenges, which would prove to be an invaluable quality she harnessed in her entrepreneurship. 

Jovia describes one of the many attempts she made to support her family financially. She started her entrepreneurial journey with no capital, initially seeking work in the army or policing due to her late husband’s military background. In 1997, she partnered with a friend of her late husband who supplied milk to the army and the police but faced profitability issues, leading to the end of their partnership. As her children grew, so did the urgency for more sustainable circumstances to generate income.

The challenges we had were with cash flow. There was no money for cash flow. We worked with AGC’s partner to try invoice discounting.

– Ms Jovia Kagezi.

Hola Milk Facility
Hola Milk Facility

Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Association Limited cites that 44% of businesses in Uganda are owned by women and further estimates that, because of financial barriers, women-led entrepreneurship only contributes to about 1% of their market. [1] At AGC, we recognize these barriers all too well. Women consistently struggle with a lack of access to capital, which is why the type of financing we provide is essential to some of these communities. In our 2022 impact report, we reported that 45% of our SME clients were led by women, underscoring strong evidence of our commitment to empower businesses like Jovia’s.

Jovia also experienced further hardships when she was finally able to set out as an entrepreneur in the dairy industry. “With little money in my account after paying school fees, rent and the
expenses of childcare”, Jovia began looking for more sustainable work. She befriended a man who operated a maize mill in Arua Park. Known for its Sudanese-speaking population, Jovia managed to leverage her working relationship to obtain credit of 4 million shillings to also begin selling maize in the maize mill, eventually getting her a better shop to start her business. “I managed to befriend a Sudanese individual who helped me acquire 11,000 bags of maize. However, I found myself in a situation where I lacked the
necessary funds. To secure a loan from a bank, I had to seek out someone who possessed a title,” she shares.

A male relative and high-ranking person in a government role, Jovia’s friend was the only option to enter the market and begin her business in Sudan. This situation underscores the importance of AGC’s mission to champion inclusive financing for women-led SMEs. As women, particularly in emerging markets, are often met with resistance when trying to access finance, often compelled to rely on a male with title to assets.

Fortunately, contracts for Jovia began to pick up momentum, and her business expanded into new markets. Jovia eventually returned to Uganda and was able to fund the purchase of 100 acres of land from the thriving business she had in Sudan, relocate her cattle, and start her enterprise. However, after the currency changes and separation of North and South Sudan, her business partner fled, taking the profits from their business with him. 


AGC's Co-CEO with Hola Milk and AGC's partner
AGC's Co-CEO with Hola Milk and AGC's partner
Hola Milk
Hola Milk


She then faced the challenge of pivoting to continuing the business. “I knew that food is always in demand. Since this morning, I’ve had two cups of tea. If all Ugandans are consuming [tea], why not provide my milk?” she explains of her business idea to meet her community’s needs. 

Amidst setting up her business, she was able to secure a loan from a local bank. However, all the profits she would earn from selling milk, would go towards paying back her loan. Once more, Jovia found herself in a circumstance where her business was not profitable.



Uniting hard work with partnerships

Quite active in the dairy industry, AGC’s partner in Uganda is at the heart of where the sector’s largest suppliers operate. As an aggregator linking suppliers and buyers, it wasn’t long before our partner connected Jovia to Sam Ssebaduka, who we soon came to learn is one of the region’s largest milk distributors. Together, they would later go on to establish the small business, Hola Milk . To begin their business together, Jovia and Ssebaduka purchased 50-liter trucks to sell samples, enter the market, and generate pre-orders. To further mobilize, the company went to hotels, restaurants, and supermarkets to introduce its product and generate brand awareness and pre-orders. The partnership between Jovia and Hola Milk was a natural progression, stemming from her tireless efforts to establish
herself as the leading milk distributor in the region.

What makes the quality of Hola Milk so good is where it comes from. Ssebaduka reveals that their equipment is manufactured abroad, and they are the only factory with a pasteurizer in the entire country. Therefore, they can pasteurize their milk and guarantee it will keep for 10 days. Additionally, Uganda’s dairy sector benefits from strong backing by the government. Government-backed initiatives
have created a supportive environment for small-scale farmers in disadvantaged regions, empowering them to overcome obstacles and enhance their quality of life.[2] Though robustly supported, the farmers and entrepreneurs within the sector still face obstacles.

[1] BREAKING Draft de ordonanță privind noile măsuri fiscale de acoperit găurile. Accessed March 19, 2024.

[2] Global Agriculture & Food Security Program (GAFSP). Helping the Ugandan Dairy Sector Achieve its Potential. Accessed May 14, 2024.


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