On completing her secondary education in 2010, Noeline Dusabe was not able to raise enough money to join university for her further studies.
This, however, did not stop the 28 year-old from achieving her dreams. After spending about two years at home, she opted to start selling fried sweet potatoes and African tea in Kayonza, Eastern Province, where she hails from.
After losing hope of joining college, she tried her hand in a small business in 2012, believing that this was her way out.
With the little capital she had by then, Dusabe relied on the sweet potatoes grown back at her home.
“I would get the potatoes from our garden every morning to my place of work. I would later prepare them alongside African tea for my customers,” she recalled.
In Rwanda, this delicacy is commonly popular among motorists and school going children who prefer it as breakfast. According to her, these categories made up a significant section of her clientele.
Dusabe during the interview./Lydia Atieno.
Selling a piece of sweet potato at only Rwf50 and a cup of tea at Rwf100, she made sure to save most of her income.
Within six months, she had saved a total of Rwf200, 000.
A long the way, a good Samaritan freely offered to teach her how to make doughnuts commonly known as mandazi, which did not take her long to master and soon she started retailing them as well.
Beyond fried sweet potatoes and mandazi, and tea, to increase her products line, Dusabe also added fried groundnuts that were equally liked by many people. Within no time, her business picked up.
“I always dreamt of becoming a prominent business woman, my one role model was always the successful agri-entreprenuer, Sina Gerald of Urwibutso Enterprises, who makes Akarabo orange-fleshed sweet potato biscuits,” she told Business Times
One day, she decided to pay a visit to her role model’s (Urwibutso) factory where she got the opportunity to see firsthand several equipment used in production of biscuits.
Through interaction with some employees at the factory, she got to learn that it was possible to make even other products using sweet potato puree.
She also discovered that the availability of the sweet potatoes was also not a problem, since they were produced in almost all the districts across the country.
“On leaving the factory, the urge to grow my business increased. I knew it was time to push myself higher. I immediately began seeking more knowledge and skills on how to make the products,” she said.
She managed to visit a neighbouring country where she learnt more on how to make pastries like cakes, bread, doughnuts and biscuits.
After training for about three months, she was confident that she had learnt enough to start her own venture.
She registered her company, Dusabe Group, with Rwanda Development Board (RDB) in 2016.
She moved to Nyagatare where she believed she would have steady customers. She started incorporating 50 per cent of orange-fleshed sweet potato and 50 per cent of other ingredients to make all the four products.
With that, Dusabe started serving unique healthy and nutritious products to a growing customer base.
For constant supply of the sweet potatoes, she linked up with main producers from a neighbouring town and hired casual labourers to help her out.
“The cost of production reduced to about 12 per cent because the orange-fleshed sweet potato became a cheaper raw material than using wheat flour solely. The variety also contains enough sugar and this reduced the costs on purchasing ingredients like sugar as well as milk to make my products,” she said.
Dusabe has since introduced her products to most supermarkets in Nyagatare town, shops, and restaurants as well as during occasions such as weddings and birthdays.
She said that, at some point, she started getting more demand than she could meet due to limited labour force at her firm.
With only a locally made oven, Dusabe hire more workers which saw her increase her productivity as well as expand her market.
Apart from just selling her products in Nyagatare, she now sells her products in other towns and cities, including Kayonza, Gatsibo and Kigali.
She has also rented a store in Kigali, for storing her products to ease her supply system.
“I also managed to join a women cooperative which serves as a savings group,” she said.
The same year, with a total of Rwf23 million she has managed to build a factory on a plot of land she had bought earlier, located a few hours away from Nyagatare.
Currently, Dusabe employs a total of 10 permanent employees at her factory.
“I have also become a provider for households in a number of areas,” she said.
Dusabe says that she earns a net profit of over Rwf300, 000 monthly and even more when she participates in exhibitions.
She also inpires youth entrepreneurs and is a member of the Rwanda Youth in Agricultural Forum (RYAF), where she helps to encourage emerging entreprenuers through her story.
Dusabe also pays school fees for three of her siblings in secondary school.
She plans to return to school to pursue her degree in Business Management and Administration in the coming days as her business is now stable.
Challenges and advice
Just like any other business, Dusabe said there are still some few setbacks she faces as far as running her business is concerned.
Currently, she still lacks some equipment like a puree mixer, racks, boilers and oven, which would boost her production.
She advises the youth not to sit back and wait for other people to employ them but instead use whatever they have to make a difference in their lives.