On a Tuesday afternoon when this writer visits Fraterne Manishimwe’s farm, she finds him and his colleagues sorting out pumpkins that are ready for value addition.
Manishimwe got into agriculture after lacking tuition. Despite having thought of the profession as one for old people, he has gradually come to like it and get better over time.
Manishimwe is the founder of Sanejo Youth Limited, a firm that makes cooking oil, juice and cookies out of pumpkins. The firm is based in Northern Province, Burera District.
On completing high school in 2015, he noticed that youth in his neighbourhood were idle and decided to come up with ways to keep them occupied.
He tried engaging them to start entrepreneurial enterprises but capital was hard to come by for most of them. This, however, did not hinder him from carrying out community activities like constructing toilets for widows gaining them recognition over time.
Due to lack of sufficient funds, he dropped out of university after the first year as his parents couldn’t support him.
It is then that the 27-year-old joined his parents in farming. Though he did not have much skill, he learnt gradually and in a few months, he had the appropriate capacity.
After self-training and working with farmers, he was in a position to build capacity among farmers in his community on appropriate farming practices.
It is then that he started a project alongside five colleagues to teach farmers to utilize land, in order to improve production and harvest.
Farmers then began paying for the training given to them and also connected to market earning them some profits.
Manishimwe and his co-workers advised farmers on working together in co-operatives, benefits of joining microfinance institutions as well as best uses of pesticides.
It is then that they started a more sustainable venture which involved teaching farmers to sow pumpkin seeds.
In 2016, his company began focusing on adding value to pumpkins riding on their nutrition value.
“Although we sold pumpkins, they were little profits out of it and other times we ended up making losses. We came up with an idea on how to add value to pumpkins. We only required necessary equipment for the value addition process. A friend offered a simple machine which we used in processing to extract cooking oil out of the pumpkin seeds,” the young entrepreneur said.
The pumpkin seeds oil was tested and approved at Ines laboratory, in Ruhengeri.
They partnered with the University of Rwanda-College of Agriculture, Animal Sciences and Veterinary Medicine, for further testing as well as undergoing training.
He notes that even though their priority was to make cooking oil, they also produced cakes, biscuits, and juice from the raw material.
Five litres of cooking oil costs Rwf 9,000, two litres at Rwf 5,000 while a litre goes for Rwf 3,000.
The company employs six permanent and 26 part-time workers and runs a farm on four hectares of land.
“Our doors opened when we won an award of young social entrepreneurs scale impact on social innovation in 2016 and we also got recognition in the Rwanda post-harvest competition, this year,” he says.
Manishimwe now employs close to 30 workers and his business is picking up with a growing business network. He is now able to pay for his Bachelor’s degree in Social work and Social sciences at Mount Kenya University.
He also gives training to farmers and youths on how best they can earn from farming.
“Our products are available in Musanze, Kigali and Kyanika modern market. We also do home deliveries we also reach out to customers through social media, company website, exhibitions, conferences, and word of mouth,” he stresses.
The businessman says that perception about young people in business was the main challenge they faced since it was hard for people to trust the youth with loans.
Manishimwe also says that advocacy and creating awareness about their products and services also posed a challenge, as people only got to know about his company after winning the award.
“We never got market easily; this forced us to give samples to people before buying our products, we also had slow machines at the time, “he added.
The entrepreneur is keen on becoming a business adviser as well as train the youth on starting businesses.