when jean Paul Ntezimana, a final year student of agriculture and food processing at Musanze Polytechnique, started working on his final year project, he didn’t realise that he had pressed the “turning point knob”.
The project idea involved adding value to sweet potatoes to increase shelf life and marketability. “However, along the way I realised that I could do much more than what others were doing. That’s why I started trying out many options, which resulted into wine-making, producing fuel (bioethanol) that can power vehicles, and making biscuits and dough nuts,” he narrates.
This gave birth to an enterprise, Agri-Extension Limited, which is engaged in food processing and renewable energy production.
The 25-year-old makes most of these products from sweet potatoes, including wine, biscuits and bioethanol.
Innovations by Ntezimana, who was one of the exhibitors at the recently-concluded 12th Agriculture Show 2017 in Kigali, attracted huge numbers of visitors through the week-long expo.
Ntezimana started by making six litres of juice using sweet potatoes he bought on credit. I paid the woman who used to supply me potatoes in form of the juice I made as I did not have money to buy them, added.
“Later, I thought about making wine. Value addition along the sweet potato value chain is still low in Rwanda, so I wanted to stimulate change that would ultimately benefit farmers,” he narrated.
He added that the 20 kilogrammes of sweet potatoes he used to make wine initially “were also bought on credit from farmers near my hostel because I didn’t have the financial capacity to pay them”.
Ntezimana took advantage of the laboratory facilities at the university to conduct further research on juice and wine-making, as well as refine their production processes and formulas with support from his lecturers.
He registered the innovations formulas at Rwanda Development Board (RDB) late last year as his intellectual property.
He also registered his wine brand name, Iyiwacu Wine, in April 2016.
The Private Sector Federation (PSF) helped him to secure barcodes from South Africa for the products.
He has already started the process to acquire the S Mark from the Rwanda Standards Board for product quality and safety. “However, it is hard for start-ups and SMEs run by young people to meet all these requirements,” he noted.
The young innovator has also produced over 21 litres of bioethanol from sweet potato peels. The biofuel can be used as an alternative to power petrol-run vehicles.
The bioethanol has already been successfully tested by Musanze Polytechnique scientists.
Presently, the young innovator is concentrating on wine-making, saying he does not have the financial capacity to implement all the projects at once.
“I made little bioethanol because some of the raw materials and tests are expensive,” he said.
Ntezimana makes potato biscuits and bread, and dreams of building a factory to process different products from sweet potatoes.
The young entrepreneur said his business ideas were inspired by the need to add value and create more products from potatoes to reduce wastage as well as contribute to efforts geared toward green development and optimal use of local resources. It started as a school project, a requirement for his degree programme.
Musanze Polytechnique teaches technical and vocational courses, including agriculture and food processing, construction, irrigation, hospitality and management as well as electrical engineering.
Ntezimana said lack of investment capital is one of the biggest challenges the venture faces. He said this, coupled with lack of locally-made packaging materials (bottles) makes it hard for the enterprise to expand as they are barely surviving.
“We import a tonne of bottles at a cost of Rwf4 million, which is a lot of money for a start-up like mine,” he said.
He produces 20 litres of wine from 10 kilogrammes of sweet potatoes. He sells one bottle of wine between Rwf2,500 and Rwf3,000. A kilo of sweet potatoes costs between Rwf150 and Rwf250.
He said the money from the venture has enabled him buy scholastic materials.
He has so far produced over 500 litres of sweet potato wine since the beginning of the year. He said his small plant has the capacity to make 100 litres of wine per day. However, the entrepreneur does not produce on a daily basis.
Awards, expansion plan
Ntezimana has already received different awards because of his innovation. He has also set up his own processing unit.
He was one of the innovators who won prizes, including smartphones at the recent Agri Show 2017.
He has also participated in different competitions for young innovators, including those organised by DOT Rwanda, Business Development Fund (BDF) and districts.
He recently won a Rwf10 million cash prize money in a competition organised by BDF. He plans to use the money to set up a processing plant.
Ntezimana’s project was recently selected by his college to compete in Germany, but could not make it because of language barrier.
Meanwhile, the young entrepreneur is looking for a place to set up a factory.
Currently, he is working from the institute premises in Musanze. The institute also gives him other forms of support besides mentorship and business incubation.
Ntezimana said he needs at least Rwf4 million to set up wine and biscuits processing units.
He said he can make 1,000 litres of potato wine within three months. He supplies the beverage to the university’s hotel and the rest is sold to Musanze residents.