During the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Regis Umugiraneza was only four years old.
His father was killed alongside his sister who was seven at the time. The Genocide, he said, started when they were living in Ruhango District, Southern Province.
In the family of five, only Umugiraneza, his mother, and his younger brother who was only four months survived.
To survive, he said, they sought refuge at his mother’s friend who was a Hutu, in Nyanza District.
The three founders of CARL group at their bakery in Kanombe. Courtesy photos
They kept moving from house to another because of the people, who seemed to show mercy towards them, at one point, would turn against them.
Although they faced a lot of humiliation, rejection, torture and even at one point narrowly escaped death, they were among the survivors rescued by Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF).
A year after the Genocide, the Government built a house for them and after completing primary school, he was supported by the Genocide Survivors Assistance Fund (FARG) to complete his secondary and university education.
Although the memory of what happened 25 years ago still form the darkest part in his life, the twenty-eight-year-old has decided to move on.
Peeled orange fleshed sweet potatoes are used in making several products.
Umugiraneza and his three colleagues, Larissa Uwase, Clarisse Murekatete and Ada Elyse Irirashenono established CARL Group, in 2014.
The group uses sweet potatoes, specifically Orange-fleshed sweet potato, to produce nutritious natural bread, biscuits, and cakes.
Umugiraneza said they wanted to focus on the particular potato breed because it is rich in beta carotene, a major source of vitamin A with his aim being to bring more nutritious products on the market using locally grown crops.
Bread from sweet potato.
At university, Umugiraneza, who is also the co-founder and director of the group, studied Agriculture Economics and agribusiness. Although he got his degree, he was uncertain of what he will do with it leading him to eventually become an entrepreneur.
His mother was against the idea of doing agriculture because, according to him, she was a farmer and she perceived it as a job for those who didn’t go to school.
While in his final year at the university doing his dissertation, the lecturer wasn’t sure whether his idea of focusing on the specific potato would work.
After their research, the academic was still skeptical on the success chances of the initiative and its operating expenses.
These, with other discouragements, almost made him give up but he chose to ignore them and move on with what he had started.
In agriculture, he said, most people were doing dissertations in the most common existing plants and crops, which made him curious to identify local but unpopular crops leading him to sweet potatoes.
Further encouraging him, his business was selected among 30 others, to represent his university in an inter-university competition
In 2014, while in his final year at the campus, he started making pasta from potatoes, and also teamed up with his business partners.
In 2016, they started making bread, chips, and cookies, spaghetti from sweet the potato.
Challenges and achievements
A year into the business, they started getting negative feedback from their consumers.
Umugiraneza says most of them were complaining due to the taste of the products which they said was not consistent. A section of clients also took issue with the packaging as it did not serve to ensure a long life of the product.
He said this was due to the reliance of manual operations including peeling of the potatoes and baking which to a large extent affected the quality and taste of their products.
The group went back to the drawing board and came up with a business plan which led them to seek bank loans to acquire all the neccesary machines needed for their work.
Under the new business plan, they chose to specifically focus on three products, bread, biscuits, and cakes.
From Gikondo, they have moved to Kanombe whereby they had adequate space.
“We have also skilled personnel and modern machines that make our work easier and ensure best end products which are consistent,” he says.
He has eight permanent employees with four others being casual employees
They distribute their bread in supermarkets and other vending points which he said has enabled them to raise money to support their families as well as save.
He said they are still conducting research on what other products they can make using the orange-fleshed sweet potato.
Umugiraneza advises the youth , especially Genocide survivors, to seize the opportunities being given to them by the Government to make the most of them, especially when it comes to business.
“They shouldn’t be overwhelmed with the dark past but focus on rebuilding the nation, they should work hard to ensure they better their own life and contribute to the development of the country,” he said.