When Elyse Habumukiza was studying in Musanze District, Northern Province, he noticed that many children were suffering from malnutrition despite the abundant food and vegetables in the area. This pushed him to think of ways to address the challenge and also earn a living as well as contribute to efforts geared toward job-creation. That’s how Ingabe Yacu Limited, which produces Itoto porridge flour, was born. The product is made of vegetables and cereals, making it rich in nutrients, according to the crop production and horticulture graduate from University of Rwanda’s College of Agriculture and Animal Sciences in Musanze.
The 25-year-old says the nutritious porridge is prepared by mixing carrot, beetroot, soya, maize and sorghum flour.
“I wanted to add value to agricultural produce and produce affordable fortified foods with essential nutrients to fight malnutrition among children,” says Habumukiza, who graduated from college in 2015.
Habumukiza says he always wanted to exploit Rwanda’s numerous resources, especially in the agriculture sector to create opportunities for himself and other youth. The prevalent child malnutrition in Northern Province triggered this desire and forced him to act.
“Through my research, I discovered that malnutrition was rampant in Musanze District. Though the area produces a lot of vegetables that would have been used to fight it, the residents use these vegetables to feed their livestock,” he says.
He adds that the fact that vegetables are rare in other regions drove him to find ways to preserve the vegetables and support efforts toward eradication of malnutrition.
Habumukiza kick-started the project with Rwf2,000, and says success stories of fellow entrepreneurs motivated him to soldier on despite the big challenges that the start-up faced.
“At the beginning, I also received a lot of encouragement from my classmates and lecturers, as well as community members to continue with the project,” he explains.
He was to get a huge boost when he won Rwf500,000 in last year’s young entrepreneur’s contest conducted by DOT Rwanda. He is also one of the local beneficiaries of $5,000 (about Rwf4.2 million) from Tony Elumelu Foundation, an entrepreneurship programme that supports start-ups on the continent. “This money enabled me to expand the project and buy more raw materials and machines.
The fortified porridge flour is made from processed dry carrot, beetroot, sorghum, maize, soya bean. The young entrepreneur says he is in the process of certifying the product to create confidence among buyers and ease entry into new markets, especially in the region.
Habumukiza’s project has opened doors for fellow youth and he now employs six young people to help him with the operations. “I want to expand my business and increase the number of employees, which will benefit more people,” he said.
The young entrepreneur sells most of the product in Musanze, where a kilogramme costs Rwf1,000. However, it is at Rw1,500 in other places. Habumukiza has so far earned over Rwf3 million since the inception of the enterprise last year.
During this year’s Rwanda International Trade Fair, Itoto porridge flour attracted many customers, and Habumukiza says he got a lot of useful contacts.
Presently, the product is distributed to different parts of the country in health centres, shops and supermarkets.
Habumukiza has bought three machines, including a dryer, a chopping machine and some ovens, that he uses to produce the porridge. His initial production was 14 kilogrammes per month as he did not have funding. But this has since increased to 400 kilogrammes of fortified flour monthly. Previously, he used to buy the raw materials from farmers, but now he works with farmers co-operatives that supply the vegetables. I want to work hard so that in seven years my factory will be inaugurated at national level, he says.
Habumukiza’s dream is to expand the business so that it benefits more people. “I plan to set up a factory in the long-run, say within the next seven years,” he says.
The young entrepreneur adds that he has started to network with other companies that are interested in the business.
The entrepreneur advises youth never to be discouraged by challenges, and to take advantage of every opportunity and stop shunning small jobs.
“The number of unemployed youth is still high. However, young people can focus on entrepreneurship instead of waiting for government or white collar jobs. This way, we will be able to develop the country and become self-reliant because youth have immense potential.”
He also urges youth to join cooperatives, saying youth do a lot more working in groups.
According to Habumukiza, only people that are willing to use their potential to innovate can prosper and change other people’s lives and the country generally.