Business Times will, for the next several weeks, profile women involved in business, who will share their success tips and experiences of how they made it in the cutthroat and male-dominated business world. They will also tell us how they started out, what inspired them and how they have managed to make their business dreams come true. This week, Triphomus Muyagu talked to margaret Mbabazi, a mushroom grower
SHE bends over as she cleans and weighs her harvest. She repeats the routine and serves waiting customers. Margaret Mbabazi is like the proverbial phoenix. The former women’s clothes seller refused to let losses suffered in her first business influence her destiny. After the business closed shop due to competition from the big boys and high taxes on her little income, Mbabazi switched to mushroom growing.
The 32-year-old resident of Kayonza district in the Eastern Province has also changed from a disgruntled business woman to a content one, thanks to her new enterprise.
Mbabazi says the business is already transforming her life. Although it’s just two months since she started the project, the difference in her life is noticeable.
How she started
Mbabazi says she used to sell women clothes, but the business was making losses. Transport and taxes were too high, as well as competition from established traders, who even had better quality clothes. She used to operate from Kayonza and Kibugo markets. When the going got tough, she decided to switch businesses, taking to mushroom growing. Mbabazi says although the enterprise was unique, the move was daring as she did not know how it would turn out.
However, the fear was unfounded as she is the pioneer mushroom grower in Nyamirama sector. As a result, she has become some sort of a consultant on mushroom growing in the locality. Local officials and doctors from Nyamirama Health Centre have visited her for advice on mushroom growing. They have also encouraged her because boosting nutrition is one of Nyamirama sector’s priorities. “In fact, the officials are planning to sensitise the people to join me so that we can improve production and household income,” she says.
Mbabazi says she got the idea of growing mushrooms from her brother. She adds that after she closed her garment business, she went for training in mushrooming farming, harvesting and packaging. The young entrepreneur now has a certificate in mushroom growing.
“I started the project with Rwf600,000, which I used to construct the shelter where I grow the mushrooms. I also bought planting materials and paid workers’ wages,” she narrates.
Mbabazi says she harvests about 26kg of mushrooms a week and sells a kilo at Rwf1,000 in Kigali, and about Rwf800 in the neighbourhood. However, her biggest buyers are supermarkets in Kigali, where she supplies the crop twice a week.
Mbabazi says the project has changed her standard of living. “I am able to pay school fees for my two children and buy the basic needs at home. I am not complaining as I live a comfortable life now compared to when I was selling clothes.”
Also, she pays health insurance and takes care of the extended family members. “I am now planning to construct a house from the savings I accumulated over time. I will use part of the house as selling point for the mushrooms,” she outlines her short-term plans.
“Because of the huge market and good returns, I want to expand the project in the near future.” She is considering acquiring a loan for the business expansion project.
Her success is without pitfalls, however. Mbabazi says transporting the mushrooms to Kigali is costly, but emphasises that she can’t give up. She says she wants to attract outsiders to visit her project, hoping that they could offer some funds to expand her enterprise.
She also notes that most ordinary people do not eat mushrooms, which narrows her market base.
Mbabazi, however, is optimistic that once the Nyamirama sector and health centre officials sensitise the masses about the importance of mushrooms in their diet, her market and fortunes will grow.
She notes that during the dry season the costs go up as she has to buy water to irrigate the mushrooms for better germination.
“The source of water is far away, making it very costly during dry season,” she adds.
Mbabazi advises other women not to lay back and wait to be ‘spoon fed’, saying they have the ability “to make a difference no matter where they stay”.
She challenges the youth to be job-creators, arguing that if she managed to set up such a project, they can also do the same or even much better, and contribute meaningfully to the development of the country.
She calls on other people to join her, noting that she is ready to train them in the trade “as this would reduce unemployment in the country”. She adds that the vision of the country is about development, innovation and creativity.
Christine Kayitesi, a resident of Kayonza, says “the project has helped them improve their diet because ever since Mbambazi started growing mushrooms, they have learnt a lot from her as she is a creative and good person.
“We have benefitted a lot from the project. In fact, I am also planning to start growing mushrooms when I get enough capital,” she says.
“Mbabazi says she wants to support government efforts to promote job-creators… that is why she decided to make a difference, starting with her home area,” Kayitesi explains.