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Ochuli crosses borders with welding skills

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By Michael Kanaabi

J oseph Ochuli’s workshop, located at the lower back end of the Ntinda Stretcher market, is not the fancy type with modern machinery or hi-tech gadgets.

However, this workshop that looks like your typical Jua Kali makeshift space has honed the skills of about 200 craftsmen in close to 20 years of existence.

These welders and metal workers have spread out to countries such as Rwanda, Congo and South Sudan, where they are also making a living creating metal fabrication products and light machines.

Ochuli shows off a sileage crushing machine he built. (Photo/Michael Kanaabi)

Who is Ochuli?
Ochuli’s father was an engineer at Uganda Television now UBC; so, he grew up around circuits and seeing his father fix things.

His entry into machining, however, came after his graduation with a Diploma in Mechanical Engineering and Electronics from Kyambogo University in 2,000.

He started his craft working for an Indian company for one year where he mastered the art of machining.
Prepared with Shs 700,000 accumulated in savings, he took his chance and moved out on his own, choosing to set up a shop.

Latest innovations
Ochuli’s latest innovation is a baking oven with a capacity of making at least 100 loaves of bread in every shift.

During the recent lockdown, I paid a visit to his workshop and found him adding final touches to this baking oven.
“This one uses electricity to power it, but can also be modified to use charcoal or fire wood. The capacity, too, can be adjusted depending on a particular customer’s needs,” he says.

The ovens Ochuli makes can be used to make pizza, biscuits plus other products that need dry heating. The costs vary from Shs 2 million and above, depending on size and specifications.

Some of the other completed machines he has worked on recently include a soap making machine that can churn out both liquid and bar soap with a capacity of 40 to 200 bars per shift.

He also fabricates milk cookers and milk pasteurizers, dough mixers, stainless steel worktops, briquette makers and other equipment used in factories.

In 2019, he created one of the first locally made large fresh produce driers he christened the ‘Timex batch tray drier’.
“Due to the challenges of produce going bad, especially cassava within rural communities, I decided to come up with a solution that can help preserve and add value to their produce,” he says.

The dryer is able to dry two tons of cassava in four to five hours, and as a result is able to handle up to three batches in a day.

This machine can also be used to dry herbs, cereals, and groundnuts, maize and silver fish commonly known as mukene.

It uses biomass, electricity and can also use a steam engine as a source of power.


Challenges
In 2013, his workshop was looted by robbers who made away with his work materials, tools, semi finished machines, laptop and personal notes.

“It is the most painful experience I have had in life. I went back to square one and started using my skills to rebuild-doing small carpentry jobs, repairing electronics and basic metal fabrication like windows until I slowly recovered in 2016,” he says.

Other challenges Ochuli faces include limited space for expansion, limited capital for growth, delayed payments from clients, fraudsters claiming credit for his hard work, difficulty in patent registration for his inventions.

He adds that the Covid- 19 pandemic and lockdown has constrained his cash flow.

Achievements
His Timex dryer machine was recognised as a great innovation when President Museveni visited a farm in Luwero where it was being used.

“I am very grateful for this recognition. But I still wish the government would support me more by giving me a chance to skill farmers in the agro-processing sector,” Ochuli says.

The numerous machines he has created that have made people’s lives better by easing their work, creating incomes for them and adding value to their produce is greatly satisfying to Ochuli.

The success tips he says have helped him build his business include being open to knowledge sharing and exchange with others in his trade, staying very innovative in his work and always being honest with his customers.

Peter Ochwo (former apprentice) says he worked at Ochuli’s workshop for two years and learnt the basics of welding, metal work and fabrication.

“He always gave us opportunities to try out more complex projects, with time giving us better skills. I am very thankful for his contribution to my life and I now run my own workshop outside Jinja town,” Ochwo says.

Before the Covid-19 lockdown, his annual turnover was between Shs 120-150 million but this has since dropped to Shs 70-80 million, since 2020.

Ochuli now employs five workers and has also taken on six apprentices, who come to the workshop for three days a week.

Future plans
He is considering acquiring more capital for expansion and growth to make more advanced machines and train others.
He also wants to get into the food processing business for both local and export consumption while creating internationally recognised products.

Finally in terms of research and product development, he is working at creating a self propelling water pump that does not use any form of energy to propel it so as to ease the work of farmers and other water harvesters.

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