Looking back four years, very few graduates from higher education institutions such as the University of Rwanda, even much less for those in the tech world, showed any passion about farming.
But three graduates from different disciplines at the national university have vowed to disrupt this.
Eugene Mukeshimana, a graduate in electronics and telecommunication; Claudine Kabageni, microbiology graduate; and Candide Ushorewenimana who graduated in finance, are the brains behind CCE Farms.
CCE Farms is a local company that processes and brands chili for domestic consumption and is eying export market.
In just less than two years of operation, they have scooped different awards and received Rwf2 million from I&M Bank as top prize winner for new business ideas.
They have also been invited among the 25 Rwandan firms to feature in the Tony Elemelu entrepreneurship programme this year in July.
In an exclusive interview with Business Times’ Edwin Ashimwe, one of the founders, Eugene Mukeshimana, shared the drive behind the young innovators’ project and how venturing into farming using technology is changing the quality of horticulture products and giving them global appeal.
First of all tell us about CCE farms…
CCE is an acronym of all our first names; we are all Rwandans and are passionate about integrating technology into farming and contributing to Rwanda’s backbone economy that is agriculture, through increasing productivity of horticulture goods, both for the local market and exports.
Why did you opt for chili processing?
We started out by exporting chili through NAEB (National Agriculture Export Development Board), individually, but it was not until we received a tender from a client of 10 tonnes of chili, which we were unable to produce, after which he challenged us on why people would lack supplies.
Then as a group, we started thinking of various ways to increase the productivity and found out that what was more profitable and more sustainable was not business but rather process our own high quality goods that would satisfy demand.
Eugene Mukeshimana, with a group of farmers during the harvest. Edwin Ashimwe
Besides chili takes a short time to grow in a range of six months.
When did you launch your pilot phase of processing?
We started last year, in July, by processing two different products, namely chili and passion fruits, though chili grows faster compared to passion fruits. We grew chili on one hectare of the four that we rent in Bugesera District.
What were some of the strategic methods you used during the pilot phase?
We all know that pilot phases are like small-scale experiments farmers carry out to test the project deliverables “in the field”, therefore we invested heavily in irrigation, importing different chemicals to see that we produce chili with a global appeal.
Did you meet expectations of the pilot phase?
Well we might actually say that the pilot phase was very successful in our perspective, the first time we harvested this month we got close to 68kgs of chili but in less than three months we are harvesting more than one ton. So there is possibility of even increasing productivity in the next season.
After the pilot phase what are some of the lessons you have drawn from it, and what are you doing to address them?
When we ventured into farming, we had a mindset of doing commercial farming, with that we want to process enough products that can satisfy a bigger market. Rwanda targets 46,314 tonnes of horticulture output and an annual export revenue of $130 million by 2024 with that in mind only 1tonne is a small portion just within the regional market, thus challenging all farmers including ourselves to raise their productivity level.
Most farmers still say that deploying technology in agriculture is costly, how were you encouraged to be odd?
Deploying technology in all fields is actually the most expensive thing according to our observations, green houses cost almost Rwf6-8 million; installed irrigation or drip irrigation even more, so the concern is actually relevant though we have a broader perspective because we can’t satisfy a big market without technology.
Instead of buying a big land, you would rather use a smaller land and deploy technology, technology can do amazing work where by you can multiply very many times more yield on the same size plot using technology according to our pilot phase.
Who is your target market?
We are partners with NAEB, and that is where we currently expect to be exporting our yield from, as a small SME we have not yet developed our own clientele base, besides the local market is our major tender for our production.
What is the ambition of the CCE Farms?
Chili production stands at 21 tonnes annually here in Rwanda, thus we look to becoming the leading processors of the product. We do not just grow chili, but we also planted passion fruits.
Also, currently, we look forward to start processing of French beans. On the other hand, we want to expand the company and be in position to work with different farmers for the betterment of horticulture industry in Rwanda.
Already, we have employed a group of people – close to 40 – including agronomists, farmers etc... And as a company, we also want to advance technology that is deployed into agriculture which we believe will eventually entice other young Rwandans to venture into agriculture.