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Highs and lows of first Rwandan Cheesemaker

Samuel Ndoli. / Photo: Bertrand Byishimo.

At the entrance of the “Formagerie la reine”, one is met by Samuel Ndoli’s calm face, welcoming you to his firm.

Ndoli owns and runs Formagerie La Reine, a local cheese firm which is common among shops and supermarkets across the country.


Ndoli was raised outside Rwanda where he pursued his primary and secondary studies. Upon graduating in DRC preferred self-employment over being hired.


“I was such an individual who never wanted to work for a salary”, he says.


“I had majored in Medical sciences and upon graduating, I started my own clinic”, he said noting that his business was based in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo.

After ten years, he ventured into livestock farming, a career that he did not know would become his long-term profession in the next few years.

When insecurity problems escalated in DRC (Mid-1994), Ndoli thought about returning to his homeland.  

“Most of my belongings and properties were taken away, I had to come back home. I came and started two clinics, but later on realized that the kind of business wouldn’t be successful at the time”, adds the 68-year old.

In 1996, he ventured into dairy production near Gishwati Forest, which was also destroyed by the attacks of armed groups harbored in DR Congo.

 “It was a well-equipped dairy firm but was disturbed by military attacks. All machines were stolen and the firm had nothing in the store”, he recounts.

In 1999, milk was in a high production in the country and he started a small cheese production plant in Rubavu where he lived.  

“I started by renting a small house of two rooms”, he said.

After two years, he had bought a plot where he built his factory.

Milk in process to make cheese

“The industry had great opportunities at the time and I was the only cheese maker in Rwanda. The market was big at that time, plenty of businesses wanted cheese and they had no other local suppliers”, he added.

This increased his effort, and he built a factory worth Rwf80 million, including Rwf 10 million support from USAID.  

After having a factory, the next step was to acquire high-tech machines that would ensure the smooth operations of the factory.

“I was very eager for improvement and I needed electronic machines at the workplace”, said Ndoli , adding  that he wanted to move from analog to a digital mode of working.

He then applied for a loan at The Development Bank of Rwanda, a move he did not realize will throw him back in hurdles that will take time to recover.

“I applied for a loan at BRD to buy a machine from Switzerland. Unfortunately, they sent me a machine that was malfunctioning”, he comments.

He then requested for another machine, but his request took about a decade while in the meantime, The Development Bank of Rwanda was recording the loan as interest charges kept escalating.

“It later on came to my attention that I was blacklisted in all the banks, because I couldn’t take a loan anywhere before paying back BRD”, narrates the 68-year old.

“I had no other choice apart from paying back, so I paid back Rwf 72 million to BRD, but it negatively impacted my firm’s operations”, he added.

The man concludes that he got another relief in 2019 from the Post-Harvest Agribusiness Support Program(PASP) which funded him with Rwf16,700,000.

“That amount revamped my business and now I can process over 1500 liters of milk per day to produce cheese”.

The businessman who started with Rwf60,000 has a factory with property value worth Rwf200 million of the factory, and he was making more than Rwf8 million a month before being hit by the impacts of Covid-19 pandemic.

The former board member of Rwanda Standards Board, has more than 12 reliable buyers, including hotels, restaurants and supermarkets in Kigali.

Formagerie La Reine provides income to more than 120 local farmers as they get where to sell their milk produce.

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