Shakira Imaniraguha has weathered the storm, literally speaking. The businesswoman in Rubavu town, Western Province has risen from barely making ends meet to earning millions of francs annually from her small business and farming activities.
The former vegetable vendor says she lived a miserable life and could only afford to put food on the table and never used to save even a penny. That was 10 years ago, which as they say, can be a lifetime.
Presently, Imaniraguha owns a thriving business, is a landowner in Rugerero sector, and a horticulture produce dealer who supplies one of the big hotels in Rubavu town.
Imaniraguha used to vend vegetables and move around Rubavu town looking for buyers around 2007.
“Life was hard…Though I used to work hard, I would always get little profits that I could not even support my parents,” she adds. However, her fortunes were to change for the better six years ago when she joined a sector saving and credit cooperative in Rugerero.
Imaniraguha joined the cooperative after a sensitisation drive by local leaders, encouraging residents to form saving groups, through which they could access funding to improve their lives.
She was among the first people that formed Seruka SACCO in Rugerero sector.
The mother of four says that when savings increased after some months, she requested for a small loan and used the money to expand her business. She also secured a stall in Rubavu Main Market.
“I could also get small loans from colleagues, which I would pay back after withdrawing my money from the SACCO,” says the 30-year-old enterprising woman.
Imaniraguha says her breakthrough was when she secured a loan of Rwf1 million from the SACCO to expand further her enterprise and diversify into farming.
The move paid off as she was able as to repay the loan within one year.
“After getting the loan I started to work very hard and I would wake up by 4am to buy vegetables and other fresh products.
“I was always in the market by 7am,” she notes. Imaniraguha sells foodstuff, including vegetables, rice and cassava flour and fruits.
She explains that, with the loan, she was forced to learn better money management practices, saying she wanted to ensure she had enough money to service the credit facility and lead a good life.
“I learnt the importance of proper loan utilisation, which I believe has helped me get this far,” she adds.
Imaniraguha was, later, to acquire another credit facility of Rwf3 million that she invested into her businesses.
Her business acumen has enabled her to secure a deal to supply vegetables to one of the big hotels in the district, where she is the main supplier.
“This boosted my business as they pay me a good amount of money compared to what I make in the market,” she says.
“I am also working with traders from the DR Congo that I supply vegetables and fruits,” she says.
She adds that she is also in discussion with other hotels in town to supply them fruits and vegetables, noting that once she gets these deals, her monthly earnings would reach at least Rwf500,000.
“Since I started working with the SACCO, my business has improved significantly and now I have a permanent stand in the market. My business and earnings have since gone up, and I make over Rwf300,000 in profit per month,” she adds.
The woman entrepreneur has been able to construct a commercial building in the outskirts of Rubavu town in Rugerero sector using her savings and a loan. She hopes to complete it by the end of 2019. She also boasts of a number of other properties worth Rwf20 million.
“My future and that of my family is secure now, but I still continue working hard. I can’t be fooled by current success to sit back and relax,” she says.
However, the trader cum farmer says it is hard for small businesses like hers to get ‘big’ loans, which she says affects their growth.
“I wanted to get a loan to complete my commercial building, but the SACCO refused saying that they can’t give me a loan of more than Rwf5 million. This is despite my proven ability to service the loan.
“Therefore, I urge SACCOs to revise their lending policies and make them more supportive to SME operators like me,” she says.
Officials from Seruka SACCO say they only offer bigger loans to people who are organised in groups. If clients prove their capacity to repay the loan, we also give them more than Rwf5 million, but after conducting thorough assessment, according to the officials.