Meet Uwase, the young woman making spaghetti from Rwanda's tasty sweet potatoes

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Uwase during an interview last week at the company's offices in Gikondo. (Photos by Faustin Niyigena)

Larissa Uwase is a co-founder of Carl Group, an agricultural-based organisation that aims at adding value to different agricultural products. The firm hopes to produce and introduce many nutritious products made from local crops on the market in a bid to improve the health of Rwandans. Uwase spoke to Donah Mbabazi about the inspiration behind this initiative, and plans for the future.

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As co-founder of Carl Group, what was behind the inspiration to start an agriculture-focused firm?

All four of us who founded CARL Group share the same passion of feeding the hungry, so we decided to join the agriculture sector in order to join others who have started improving lives through the development of this sector.

Most of us have grown up watching our families practicing subsistence farming and we grew up aiming at transforming agriculture into a more attractive sector by developing its supply chain, hence, we went into food processing of the locally produced crop, we have not yet attained our dream but we are on the right path.

You are transforming sweet potatoes into different forms to make them more appealing, for example, by making doughnuts and cakes, but why sweet potatoes? Do you plan on doing the same with other foods too?

 For now, we are focusing on sweet potatoes because this species of orange fleshed sweet potatoes is rich in beta carotene, the major source of vitamin A, and our aim is to bring more nutritious products on the market using our locally grown crops. As we know, Rwanda is a good producer of sweet potatoes, however, they are taken as valueless crops, what we want is to first add value to these sweet potatoes.  As we grow into research we will also look at transforming other crops as long as we keep our focus of bringing more nutritious food on the market.

How has the product been received so far?

We have been to different exhibitions and we supply to different supermarkets, so we often get in contact with our customers and they give very good feedback, they really liked our products. However, our production is still not satisfying the market.

What else do you plan to add to your brand?

We are planning to add the spaghetti from orange fleshed sweet potatoes to our brand, we have already done research and it was successful.

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Co-founders Larissa, Clarisse and Regis in their showroom last week. 

Are there any other initiatives in the pipeline under Carl Group aimed at boosting the health of Rwandans and Africans in general?

We want our products to reach the African market in two years; other projects and initiatives aimed at boosting the health of Rwandans and Africans are yet to come, among those projects we plan to also go in agriculture itself.

What was your turning point as an entrepreneur?

After our company received the first national recognition by Dot Rwanda Business Plan competition, entitled ‘Youth Breaking the Cycle of Poverty’, I was motivated as an entrepreneur and more so encouraged because the idea was welcomed.

Any constraints encountered so far?

One of the constraints we have encountered so far is finding good packaging material for our products and the other one is not having enough investment to expand our business, we still do some processes traditionally because of the lack of specialised machinery.

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The co-founders presenting some of their products at their factory in Gikondo.

How do you envisage Carl Group in five years?

We envisage CARL Group in five years as a well-known company in producing nutritious food and reaching the international market as the best spaghetti producer.

You were chosen to take part at the World Economic Forum held in Kigali this year. How did this boost your initiative?

It boosted my initiatives as I realised that there are different opportunities for the youth in entrepreneurship in Africa. I realised that what we are doing is in line with the policy in place for transforming agriculture into a more attractive sector through innovation.

The World Economic Forum on Africa made me able to meet women that started from nothing but are now owners of big industries. Also, this is inspiring and it emboldens my resolve and conviction to succeed. I have been able to establish connections that would be sustainable in the long term and would also have impact of transforming it from small scale to a large-scale business.

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Their workplace was borrowed to them by a family member in Gikondo. 

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