Kampala's street food vendors have some delicious treats on offer. But often, they struggle to make a decent living.
Now, a group of social entrepreneurs has come up with an eco-friendly solution to boost business: solar-powered vending carts also known as Musana Carts.
"When we look at the state of the street vendors in African markets, but particularly in Kampala, we see that they are very hard workers but they don't make that much money because most of them are illegal," explains Manon Lavaud.
"We thought: what if we can bring them into the formal economy and at the same time provide them with a revenue-generating engine," Lavaud adds.
The Musana Cart team works with vendors to get registered - and provides them with eco-friendly technology to upgrade their business.
The three-member team met while they were pursuing the same Master of Social Entrepreneurship in San Francisco. Nataliey Bitature is from Uganda, and she already started and run two enterprises in Kampala. Keisuke Kubota is from Japan and has expertise in marketing and customers services. And Manon Lavaud is from France and she has experience in field research in emerging markets.
"We interviewed the vendors and worked with mechanical engineers to come up with the best suited cart for what they are doing, what they are cooking and how they work, the size of the streets they operate on - and make sure all the materials are suited to our climate and terrain here in Uganda," explains Bitature, Musana's head of operations.
With 17W solar panels fitted to the awning, traders now have their own power supply. That means they can offer new services, like charging mobile phones - and they can catch evening trade.
"When you use the Musana cart the solar power can power light bulbs, so they can work at night," explains Kubota, who is charge of branding for Musana.
And for those already consuming power for their business, the cart can cut costs.
"We used to pay electricity bills but now we save because we do not pay for power," says Magezi Godfrey, a street vendor who has been using one of the solar powered carts as part of the project's promotion phase.
"I used to spend 15,000 Uganda Shillings (4 US dollars) per month on power on my old stall, but here with the new Musana Solar Cart I do not spend any money (on power)."
The bright, clean new stalls can also attract new customers, the entrepreneurs say.
"People who were not willing to try street food before - now they want to try the food because they trust the vendors," says Lavaud.
Godfrey is seeing that happen with his own business.
"This cart is unique. It’s clean, everyone likes it. Customers like it because they know what they are buying from it is clean and hygienic," he says.
And the carts' environmentally friendly eco-stoves reduce emissions, meaning they even offer health benefits.
"Currently the vendors use charcoal, but if you use the Musana cart then they use briquettes, so they breathe in less smoke."
"For now it has been overcoming our expectations," Lavaud says. "The vendors make a lot of money, the customers are super happy and we have lots of traction on social media."
Each Cart will cost in average $750, while most customers do not have the capital to pay it upfront, they will pay their Musana Cart in daily increments of $3, owning the cart within a year.
“80% of the vendors interviewed were willing to pay up to $5 a day per cart and by the end of the first week testing in Kampala we had waiting list with more than 20 orders”.
It sounds like a lot, but Musana is teaming up with micro-finance organizations to help people access the funds, and say that using the cart can allow a street vendor to double - or even triple - their income.
And Godfrey is convinced they will have plenty of buyers.
"I know even my colleagues in business will buy them, they like them, they come here to inquire about the carts."
Godfrey is one of some 100,000 street vendors working on the streets of Kampala, meaning there could be quite a market for the clean, green alternative to traditional stalls.
Cover photo credit © @ThisIsUganda_