A 27-year-old woman based in Rubavu District, Western Province, is giving local wine production a new face. Assoumpta Uwamariya is making tasty and affordable wine locally from beetroot.
On the morning The New Times paid her a visit; Uwamariya was busy arranging bottles of wine on shelves in her small wine shop at Mahoko Centre – about 15-minute drive from the DR Congo’s border town of Goma.
Uwamariya explains that the beetroot wine bottles have two types of seals - the dark red coloured seal, indicating that the wine was packed about four months ago, and the bright red coloured seal for wine that was produced about nine months ago.
“I earn between Rwf400,000 and Rwf500,000 as profit per month after meeting all the expenses,” she says, adding that she is no longer interested in applying for jobs.
In December last year, she emerged the best innovator at the YouthConnekt innovator awards 2016, which took place in Kigali. She won herself Rwf5 million in prizes, which she says will help her expand her business.
Uwamariya says what drove her into this trade was because she had realised that farmers in the area were growing a lot of beetroot but without a ready market.
“In this area, people grow a lot of beetroot and, as a result, it is not expensive. I went into wine making to add value to this vegetable and save farmers the burden of lack of market,” Uwamariya says, noting that she buys a sack full of beetroot at between Rwf10,000 and Rwf12,000 during peak harvest period and Rwf30,000 during the off-peak period.
To produce 20 litres of wine, she said that she needs about seven kilogrammes of beetroot.
On average, she says, she makes about 200 litres of wine every three days, but production can go up to 400 litres over the same period with more orders, especially for weddings.
However, Uwamariya explains that wine gets fully fermented and ready for consumption after two months and that she starts bottling it after four months.
Currently, she employs 10 permanent workers and 20 casual labourers.
Getting into the wine business
The graduate of Clinical Psychology, who completed her studies in 2014, initially looked for a job in vain.
“After finishing university, I realised that it was very difficult to get a job. I did some casual jobs, but I realised I could not depend on someone to fulfill all my needs,” recounts Uwamariya.
She says, at some point, she even sold vegetables in Nyabugogo, Kigali, but soon realised that this was not a sustainable form of livelihood.
Uwamariya then moved into beetroot growing and realised it was a profitable crop. “I did more research on it, especially how to extract juice from it.”
Later, she got a temporary job with a Germany-funded project in Ruhengeri (Musanze District). She used to make juice for staff, among other roles.
Uwamariya says one of the members of staff at the project connected her to a worker in a wine factory in Germany who started teaching her how to make wine. After acquiring the necessary skills, she returned home and started making wine from beetroot.
In January, 2016, she made the first commercial wine product.
Uwamariya sells a small bottle (375ml) of beetroot wine at Rwf1,500, and a 750ml bottle for Rwf3,000. But, for the wine that has been in store for over nine months, the price more than doubles.
Impacting the community
The Rubavu District vice-mayor for social affairs, Marie Grace Uwampayizina, says Uwamariya is a good example of how young people, especially girls, can be self-reliant.
“We consider her a very important person. For instance, there is when beetroot used to lack market, but now, it has a ready market as she needs the beetroot in her business. She is playing a big role in the progress of the beet farmers,” she says.
“We realise that as a person who is in the National Youth Council [at the district level], she will be a role model to many youth in terms of job creation,” Uwampayizina notes, adding that Uwamariya supports several needy children with scholastic materials.
Marie Laurence Kabera, one of Uwamariya’s workers, says she was jobless before Uwamariya took her up and used to depend on her husband for everything.
“This girl has been of great help to us. Thanks to the monthly remuneration I get from working here, I have some livestock now. The nutrition of my children has improved because I can now afford to buy milk and porridge flour. My living conditions have improved,” says the mother of two.
High demand for Uwamariya’s wine
Uwamariya says the demand for her wine is growing fast.
“There are people in Kigali who call me asking me to supply them with the beverage but my production is not enough to meet all the demand,” she says, adding that some of her customers come from DR Congo.
“Sometimes I have orders for wedding ceremonies. The major ones have been two, one where I delivered 600 bottles, and the other 300 bottles.”
Uwamariya’s wine has gained popularity.
“For me, her wine is tastier than the red wine imported from countries like South Africa and is more affordable,” says Sezibera Dusengumuremyi, a local resident.
Challenges facing her business
Uwamariya says she wants to expand her business but expresses concerns over the fact she’s yet to own a processing factory and acquire a standards mark from Rwanda Standards Board to enable her sell her products outside Rwanda.
She also grows her own beet but on a small-scale, and spoke of the need to own a large plantation to reduce the expenses on raw materials.
Another challenge is lack of proper means (automobile) to transport large quantities of wine to her customers in distant places.
During the last year’s National Dialogue Council (Umushyikirano), Uwamariya requested for support to expand her market base. She also asked for help to go for study visits to countries with advanced wine making industry to learn new techniques.
Uwampayizina says the district leadership will continue to offer her technical advice and link her with finical institutions so that her business can grow further.