A decade ago, Josephine Mukankusi quit her job as a teacher to trade in potatoes.
But selling potatoes was not enough for the 52-year-old, who has over the years worked hard to have a competitive edge over the other dealers by selling her produce washed and packaged.
Mukankusi hails from and operates her business in Musanze District, which is considered the country’s food basket.
Having started as an ordinary small-time retail seller, Mukankusi later specialised in Irish potatoes which she put on the market after a bit of value addition.
The entire process is very cheap and requires creativity, she says.
“All I need is water to wash the potatoes and Manila paper in which I will pack the produce depending on the quantity the clients want,” she says.
Courtesy of the value addition on her produce, she started broadening her clientele network to include super markets, bars and hotels countrywide.
“I worked as a teacher before I started a small retail business. I have been specifically in the potato business for three years,” she said adding that the cut-throat competition motivated her innovativeness.
“We were simply too many in the potato business, and understandably so because Irish is the major crop in this region, so I had to find a way of having a competitive edge.”
Reminiscing the life before she started adding value to her merchandise, Mukankusi said that she worked so hard to satisfy her clients and did not save as much.
“In a month I would make between Rwf80,000 and Rwf90,000. Though it was better than the meagre salary I used to earn as a teacher, it was not as good as I wished, so I had to improvise,” she said.
Trained in value addition
Mukankusi, together with a number of her colleagues have been trained on how to add value on Irish potatoes and sell them at higher price.
The training was facilitated by a farmers’ union known as Urugaga Imbaraga in partnership with the Rwanda Agriculture Board (Rab).
“The training equipped me with skills related to the potato business right from purchasing the best, washing them and later packing them,” she said.
She said that since she started putting into practice the skills she acquired during training, her clientele changed.
“I started selling my produce to supermarkets, bars, major restaurants and hotels nationwide,” she said.
Today, she makes about Rwf800,000 per week by selling about 20 tonnes of washed Irish potatoes at Rwf400 per kilogramme.
“The profit has gone up to five times and more, compared to when I worked as a retailer,” said Mukankusi, who employees more than seven people daily.
During the Rab sponsored training, Mukankusi, also received skills on how to make chips, which she sells in local supermarkets. She plans to extend the business to other markets country wide.
“I earn an extra Rwf 80,000 per month from the chips,” she said.
Mukankusi says she has achieved a lot since she started selling washed and packaged Irish potatoes.
She has renovated her house, managed to access water and electricity and from her home, she has managed to build a facility where she washes the potatoes from.
She also spends about Rwf 700,000 per term on school fees for all her children.
“I still face challenges such as lack of transport but soon I will get a car as I am committed to work hard,” she said
She advises farmers to wait until Irish potatoes are ready to be harvested, otherwise they will rot.