Teacher finds prosperity in agri-business

Donathile Mukankomeza (left side) discuss business ideas with two other women. Michel Nkurunziza.

About 15 years ago, Donathile Mukankomeza was the head teacher of a little know primary school in Nyamagabe District of Western province. In 2011, she quit the profession to try her hand on agri-business and is now making a fortune.

She told Business Times, that this was possible thanks to a government programme which subsidized inputs (fertilizers and seeds) whereby she would retail to farmers on behalf of government and earn a commission of Rwf10 per kilogramme.

“My salary as a teacher was too little to enable me become a dealer of fertilizers and seeds. That is why I tapped into the opportunity availed by government whereby we would receive inputs as agro-dealers, sell to farmers and get a profit of Rwf10 per Kilogramme. With this I began earning as much as Rwf65, 000 per week, which is equivalent to my monthly salary as a teacher,” she said

Two years later, government privatised the venture at a time when Mukankomeza had already saved Rwf2 million. She sought an additional loan of Rwf3 million from a bank to start her own inputs shops.

“That is how I started my own Rwf5 million to open my own shop that sells fertilizers and seeds after government privatized the business and urged us to work for ourselves,” she said.

She said that from the savings and earnings, she was able to pay tuition for herself at a local university and later graduated with a degree in public health and human nutrition.

Despite completing university, she never gave up on her agri-business venture.

Donathile Mukankomeza shares ideas during the recent training for women in agri-business. Michel Nkurunziza.

She is still involved in selling agro-inputs and growing maize, Irish potatoes and banana crops.

“I am currently a model farmer and an agro-dealer. I am able to pay school fees for my three children in secondary school and one of them has started university. I also built my decent residential house from the earnings,” she said.

From the savings, she also acquired agricultural land where she has six hectares on which she grows tree tomatoes, banana, maize and Irish potatoes.

Mukankomeza currently has 8 shops dealing in fertilizers and seeds in the four districts;  Nyamagabe, Muhanga, Ngororero and Karongi, where she employs eight workers.

“I harvest 46 tonnes of Irish Potatoes and 4.5 tonnes of maize per season and I also train smallholder farmers in better agricultural practices and I am currently working with between 3,000 and 5,000 farmers who need agro-inputs,” she said.

Joining women’s cooperative

The female entrepreneur also joined the cooperative “KOPAMINYA”, a 41 member cooperative in Nyamagabe District.

“We started with contributions of Rwf50, 000 per share and now it has increased to Rwf800, 000 for new members,” she said, adding the cooperative sells veterinary drugs, agricultural equipment, fertilisers and seeds. Working together has helped us to get contracts with big clients, she said.

The cooperative, she said, has managed to buy four forest plantations that are worth Rwf20 million and two Rwf7 million worth of plots of land, one of which is located at the industrial zone where they are planning to build stores, drying facilities and offices while the other plot is in town and will serve to set up dealing shops.

“Every year, besides those properties we bought, each member takes Rwf100, 000 at the end of the year,” she said.

“The women still face challenges of access to loans as they lack collateral. Again interest rates on loans are still high. We also wish for support in designing profitable projects. Others still face low prices during harvest periods which encourage more investment in farming,” she said.

She is also involved in a project that trains the women in increasing agricultural productivity, how to access markets, post-harvest handling, improving nutrition and how to get trading license  in the districts of Gatsibo, Kayonza, Bugesera, Ngoma, Nyabihu, Rutsiro, Ngororero, Nyamasheke, Karongi and Nyamagabe with 700,000 smallholder farmers to benefit by 2022.