Q&A: From farmer to businesswoman: Why Mukankusi is making it big in Irish potato business

Who exactly is Josephine? I was once a subsistance farmer but now I’m currently an agricultural business woman. I buy Irish potatoes from the Innovative Platforms farmer’s cooperative in Gataraga, Musanze District (Northern Province).
Mukankusi with well packaged Irish potatoes. The New Times / Doreen Umutesi.
Mukankusi with well packaged Irish potatoes. The New Times / Doreen Umutesi.

Who exactly is Josephine?

I was once a subsistance farmer but now I’m currently an agricultural business woman. I buy Irish potatoes from the Innovative Platforms farmer’s cooperative in Gataraga, Musanze District (Northern Province).

I wash the potatoes and package them in an enticing way, adding value to them and then I sell them to different supermarkets and hotels in Kigali. I sell several tonnes of potatoes per month.

What inspired you to go into this business?

It was from the training I attained from the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa. After I learnt about production, post-harvest handling and marketing of agricultural produce, I decided to use the techniques I acquired to make the Irish potatoes we harvested marketable.

I discovered that if I sorted out the different varieties, washed them and packaged them differently, their value would increase.

People love the clean and nicely packaged products.  I wash and pack the Irish in artistic banana fibre bags.

My Irish potatoes are packaged in such a way that one might mistakenly end up eating them without cooking them because they look like they are already cooked (she laughs).

I employ five people who make baskets and ten people who wash the Irish potatoes and pack them. Most of these people work on a daily basis; they were once farmers but they are now elderly and don’t have the strength to cultivate anymore.

How have farmers benefited from this initiative you started?

In the past when I was still a farmer, middlemen would purchase the Irish potatoes at a low price because we had no choice.

Today, before the farmers sell their Irish potatoes to me, the farmers’ cooperative and I sit and decide on which price I can buy the Irish potatoes, putting into consideration the cost of production. Therefore, all of us benefit. 

In case a farmer has a problem, for example, they need money to solve an urgent problem, they come to me and I give them money, which they repay when they harvest their crops.

What challenges do you meet as a business woman?

It has been hard dealing with some middlemen who trick farmers into harvesting their crops before they are ready because they are in need of quick money.

The other challenge is finding a way or a technology of preserving Irish potatoes when there is too much production.

How has your business changed your life?

It has been so profitable that I have been able to pay my children’s school fees at university. I recently attained electricity at my house although it’s in a rural area.  I also bought a motorbike, which was the first of its kind in my village. I use it to transport my products around Musanze District

I have built a washing station where we wash the Irish potatoes without wasting a lot of water and I’m still achieving a lot, the list is endless.

What do you think is the biggest challenge that the Rwandan women face?

As Rwandan women, we should use this chance that we have been offered to work together with our brothers, fathers and sons which was not the case in the past. Most women are still scared of trying out new ventures because they are scared that they will be ignored.

I advise my fellow sisters to use this opportunity to positively impact society and inspire our own daughters. 

What is your current relationship status?

I’m married and I’m blessed with children. Although I’m in business, my husband is still a farmer and he supports me in all my endeavours.

What are your future plans?

I aim at being a very successful business woman but, above all, uplift the lives of farmers because they are the most important people in our society. If we don’t have enough food in the country, then there will be a lot of problems.

 

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