MILESTONE! Ugandan student innovates mosquito repellant from sour milk

Jovia Kisaakye

Jovia Kisaakye, a student at Makerere University

By her own admission, 20-year-old Jovia Kisaakye, a Makerere University business statistics student, has been a restless soul since.

When she was 17 she began looking for solutions to a problem that had led to tragedy in her family.

Growing up in the Ugandan town of Lukaya, Kisaakye’s family depended on livestock farming for their daily income and general sustenance. For the animals to have a constant supply of water for drinking, her parents dug trenches to trap rainwater. Although this solved the water problem, it created another problem — the trenches became a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Young Kisaakye often missed school because of frequent malaria attacks. When her younger brother died from the disease at the age of five the family stopped farming with cattle.

For Kisaakye, the decision was a relief, not only because she associated it with the death of her brother and illness, but because of the helplessness she felt at seeing so much milk going to waste after it was not sold because the family did not have electricity and fridges.


It was “agonising” for her to watch her mother suffer, looking for other means to put food on the table after failing to sell the milk, which would regularly spoil.

“The death of my brother was so painful that I don’t like revisiting it,” Kisaakye said.

She often wondered if there was a way she could help find a solution to make up for her personal and family tragedy but also to help save more lives, especially those of children. At the same time, she was very aware of the need to improve the incomes of farmers.

Her journey started to crystallise when was at high school.

“[W]hen I finally joined Chichende High School and began taking up regular agricultural projects, my desire to use sour milk into useful products grew stronger,” she said.

Kisaakye developed an understanding of the problem and her desire to do something with her knowledge grew.

Kisaakye was in charge of agricultural projects when she met two university students conducting projects at Kisaakye’s high school. They would later become her business partners.

In 2019, Kisaakye was admitted to Makerere University, where she met up again with Brasio Kawere and Patrick Sseremba.

Kawere graduated with a degree in dental surgery and Sseremba is now a doctor at Mulago National Referral Hospital in Kampala.

Sseremba said Kisaakye’s ambition and passion drove him to join her in her quest.

“Jovia was an ambitious young girl. Unlike many girls her age who expect parents to sustain them, she wasn’t one. She had millions of ideas in her head, and I thought of joining her in the journey. She loves her work and always points me to new opportunities that I can go for,” he said.

After rigorous research, the trio learned that the solid sour milk could be used to make a lotion.

In 2019, after a few tests and trials, they came up with their first prototype, named Sparkle mosquito repellant milk lotion. They obtained a $1 500 grant from the Makerere University Incubation Centre to develop the project under the guidance of professors, laboratory technicians and lecturers.

By 2020, they had tested the market to ascertain the efficacy of the lotion and improve its user acceptability.

The business venture sources 40% of its sour milk directly from dairy farmers, who sell a litre at the same price (700 USh) as fresh milk, thus cushioning them from losses.

The remaining percentage of milk is obtained from large factories and wholesalers who fail to penetrate the market and sell at a lesser price than fresh milk.

Given the success, Kisaakye did not forget her desire to be part of the solution to ending malaria. She convinced her co-founders to undertake research to see if they could create a mosquito repellent.

In 2021, the team started mixing mosquito repellent organic plant extracts with sour milk.

“We made a few unstable products at first. Our lotion was 100% effective at repelling mosquitoes but unstable on the shelf, so we had to revise the ingredients,” said Kisaakye. “A few more trials gave the product 80% effectiveness at repelling mosquitoes as well as stability on the shelf.”

Mosquito repellent organic plant extracts with sour milk.

After receiving additional funding for product development and with assistance from chemists, their product was certified by the Uganda National Drug Authority as safe for human use.

“Our products, which are marketed through our firm, Sparkle Agrobrand Limited, have been accepted and are now available in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria and Benin. We are keen to expand and grow our market across Africa and beyond,” said Kisaakye.

According to Sseremba, the company — located in Kajjansi in Wakiso District — is now worth some $500 000.

The company employs four full-time workers and eight part-time people. It is also overseen by business people from the Uganda National Chamber of Commerce, medical experts in the field of malaria as well as an agronomist.

“Without innovation, the world would be stuck with old ideas and traditional ways of doing things,” Kisaakye said. “Formal employment is key for the daily survival of millions of youth but for successful living, youth in Africa need to engage in entrepreneurship and build business brands that serve others.”

Almost three years since its inception, Sparkle Agrobrands has been able to attract a variety of partnerships and opportunities from multiple players in the industry. This year the company was awarded $3 000 by the Regional Universities Forum for capacity building in agriculture (Ruforum), a consortium of 148 African universities operating in 38 countries.

According to Professor Anthony Egeru, the training and community development programme manager at Ruforum, the company has great potential for growth.

“Uganda produces about 1.8 billion litres of milk annually, and only 800 million litres are consumed annually. As such, a whole lot of milk is not consumed. Even if the farmers receive refrigeration, a lot needs to go into processing. Any new approaches to process milk such as this is an opportunity for growth,” said Egeru.

He said that Ruforum young innovators are awarded through a competitive process involving phases; in this case, 1 300 applications were received. Sparkle Agrobrand made it to the 20% of applications that were further moved to adjudicators, who then evaluated the businesses to select the final beneficiaries.

A partnership with Jumia, the leading e-commerce platform in Africa, has increased clients and market beyond Uganda.

The company is currently piloting fertilisers made from sour milk on different farms in Uganda and doing laboratory tests under regulated conditions.

It is also looking to establish a large-scale production plant and diversify products derived from food waste.

According to Sseremba, waste is causing significant environmental degradation but is readily available and cheap for use.

“Young people should work hard and avoid expecting free money from the government or other bodies. Young people should also engage in research before embarking on any business venture because poor planning leads to business failure,” Sseremba said.

Despite all she has accomplished, Kisaakye, a second-year student, has had to figure out a way to balance her business and education. The team has devised a schedule where each of them dedicates at least five hours daily to the company. They plan by scheduling weekly events but Kisaakye also uses the internet to expand the brand.
“Young people need to come up with solutions for the future! We need to use skills in innovation and technology to solve social problems in our society. These skills will benefit us more than waking up to look for jobs,” Kisaakye concluded.


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