Ernest Mugisha, 22, started pondering about how to create a business empire that could change his life as well as help fight poverty in his community when he was studying Mathematics, Physics and Computer Science (MPC) in high school. Today, the second-year student at the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA) is among the 50 nominees for the Chegg.org Global Student Prize 2022. The $100,000 global award is given to an exceptional student that made real impact on learning, the lives of peers and society. Mugisha was selected from nearly 7,000 nominations and applications from 150 countries. The winner will be announced later in the year. Infim Ag-Transform Africa cofounders. The group of 4 agripreneurs provide consultancy services in agricultural production, supply chain and project development. Photo: Courtesy. The young man who is studying conservation agriculture – mechanisation and irrigation – is a co-founder of a multimillion company, “Infim Ag-Transform Africa” dealing in agricultural production, supply-chain, and project development. “My family was too poor to afford paying my school fees. Fortunately, Imbuto Foundation offered to pay school fees for me until I completed secondary school in 2018,” Mugisha told Doing Business. Upon finishing high school, Mugisha put his computer science skills to good use. He developed software able to link refugees to job opportunities in the country. But he did not stop there. In 2019, he created Pangelassa Revival, a non-profit that aimed to solve the problems of social exclusion among communities including refugees. “We could mobilise and provide various support to such communities. People donated using the software I created,” he said. Innovation for impact In order to create sustainable sources of income, Mugisha chose business in agriculture. To make sure he did things right and had a viable agribusiness, he applied and obtained a scholarship to study at RICA and enhance his knowledge and skills in sustainable agriculture. In December 2019, he brought on board three colleagues to start the firm. The co-founders are Jean Damascene Kubwayo, the chief of operations, Eric Sibomana, the chief administrative officer, Benjamin Ntihemuka, in charge of sales and marketing, and Assoumpta Umwali Ujeneza, the projects’ lead who joined the team later on. “The mission is to create sustainable communities by transforming agricultural innovative ideas into tangible ventures and then transform the lives of smallholder farmers through digital and smart agriculture. Our main goal is innovation for impact in agriculture,” Mugisha said. “We joined efforts and each contributed Rwf27, 000 to start a tomato farming project in Gashora sector where we leased land. The savings came from the Rwf20, 000 of bursary each of us receives every month. Our capital gradually increased. Later we chose to focus on consultancy instead of production so as to help the farming community to transform agriculture in the country. We want to extend the services to the region.” The company trains farmers on good modern agricultural practices, designs agribusiness projects and provides advisory services during project implementation. “We initiate, design, and implement different projects. We can initiate ideas, design projects and sell them to investors. We design business plans for people. We also design projects and help people to run and operate them,” he said. Their company’s consultancy services also include agriculture project appraisal which is the process of assessing, in a structured way, the case for proceeding with a project, or the project’s viability. They also do business proposals and business pitching services. Women can transform agriculture According to 22-year-old Ujeneza who is studying food processing at RICA, and joined the firm in the end of 2021, “women have the power to transform agriculture.” “As project director I play a big role in decision making for the company. As agriculture employs most women, I have to play a role in designing projects to help them transform the sector,” she said. One of the projects she is working hard to deliver is a system software prototype called CAS - Classic Ag Software. “CAS is built with technology to facilitate the provision of high-quality digital farm management, digitalized farm records, provision of automatic reports, farm data analysis and linking farmers to markets, therefore making it easier to do agribusiness,” she said. The system ensures standard farm management practice by informing farmers about everything happening at the farm. “The system will allow farmers to easily access farm inputs, talk to agricultural experts, and connecting them to the market,” she said. It will also facilitate agricultural financing and loan, she noted. “The software will have a system that assess farmers’ business plans for the appraisal to obtain loans from financial institutions, hence, making it easier for farmers to obtain funds from financial institutions and fostering further agricultural potential investments,” she said. Umwali is also striving to deliver on a project to manufacture greenhouses, among others. “People subscribe to our services and that is how we generate revenues. Our annual turnover is in tens of millions every agricultural season,” Mugisha said. The firm grows chili, tomatoes, and onions, among others, in Gashora and Rweru sectors of Bugesera district. “We harvest two tons per season depending on the crop we have grown. We sometimes export the produce. We can also buy farmers’ produce and export it,” he said. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the firm created a modern farming programme. “This is a mobile farm. It has a cage for poultry farming and over the cages you can also grow other crops such as vegetables needed in everyday life. So we equip farmers with skills on such farming techniques,” Mugisha said. “In all our activities we employ over 500 people every agricultural season.” Hydroponic farming and greenhouses manufacturing Considering that people housed in model villages across the country do not have land, Mugisha said, the company initiated a project to deploy hydroponic farming technology to rural areas. “We did a tour in some model villages and found that they have no soil. So farming without using soil will be an alternative. We are [working] on a project to establish such techniques together with greenhouses in the villages and we will work with funders,” he said. Mugisha said they plan to start a greenhouse manufacturing plant and therefore cut the imports. The equipment and techniques are needed considering that the Ministry of Agriculture says farming vertically in hydroponics, and greenhouses could help a farmer harvest up to 500 tons per hectare, or 100 tons on 0.2 hectares, against about the six tons now being produced on 0.2 hectares. Mugisha was recognized and awarded as the founder of the year 2021 in the category of Agripreneurs across the continent. The awards are given – by the Founder of The Year Awards (FOYA) – to the best youth-led SMEs. Mugisha also created Vuga-Public speaking academy, a non-government organisation which improves students’ public speaking skills. “They can easily present and showcase their innovative ideas,” he noted. Mugisha served as public speaking and debate coach and judge at the iDebate Rwanda, an NGO using debate to change the lives of young Rwandans and east Africans by equipping them with public speaking and critical thinking skills.