When Jean Luc Masabo was growing up in Ngoma District, he was always fascinated by traders in his neighbourhood because they seemed to have money all the time. This, unconsciously, shaped his dream of becoming an entrepreneur, he says.
This dream was reawakened last year when he graduated from university.
“In fact, on graduation day, we were encouraged to be innovative and start our own businesses instead of waiting for white collar jobs in government and corporate firms,” the 23-year-old says.
Later, Masabo reflected on these messages; this is how Green from Gray Manure Company Limited was born. The start-up makes organic manure from urine and rice waste.
The Water and Environmental engineering graduate from University of Rwanda’s College of Science and Technology, says that he was also inspired by need to support farmers improve their productivity by using organic fertilisers. He adds that organic manure production is still a virgin area with few players.
The effort has already landed him an innovation award and employs close to 30 youth, both permanent and temporary workers.
The resident of Bwiza cell in Kibungo sector, Ngoma, Masabo explains the thought of having to ask his parents for money as a graduate was another push factor.
“This scared me and pushed me to think of a way to avoid such a situation happening,” Masabo notes.
The Green from Gray Manure Company Limited enterprise was birthed out of critically observing his surroundings in his home town in Kibungo.
He says a healthy-looking green shrub that sprouted from an area where village drunkards used to ease themselves drove him to study the properties of urine and benefits to plants.
“I did research on Google about human urine… The findings were interesting as I discovered that, indeed, it has useful components that support plant growth,” he explains.
Later, the water and environmental engineer used his class knowledge to conduct a practical study on a urine, soil and rice waste mixture.
When the compost was ready, he applied it on a small portion of the family crops during the pilot phase of the project.
“The area where I applied the manure produced high yields compared to the rest of the garden. The Irish potatoes looked well-nourished throughout the season besides the increased productivity,” he says.
As they say, the rest is history, and now Masabo is an upcoming organic manure maker in his home district, earning over Rwf1 million from organic fertilisers per month.
The young entrepreneur says his initial investment was Rwf30,000, which he used to buy containers, like jerry cans and tanks. The rest of the money was used to buy urine.
Masabo says he used money saved from his living allowance he received at university as a government-sponsored student.
Masabo gets rice husks free of charge from farmers. He grinds the husks into powder using a machine and mixes it with urine and some soil. Later, he filters the mixture to get the manure.
The innovator has a fully-equipped lab and an office in Kibungo for the job. The manure can be applied on all types of crops, including potatoes and tomatoes.
Urine for sale
Though the project is in its nascent stage, it has attracted a lot of interest. Realising its huge potential, Masabo approached neighbours and sold them the idea of collecting their urine, which they accepted.
Though they initially supplied him the waste for free, he was made to pay for it after they realised he was using it for his business.
He would pay the family of 12 members almost Rwf1,000 daily. However, the supply was little compared to his needs and the growing demand for organic manure in the area.
“Therefore, I approached two neighbouring schools, Groupe Scolaire Kibungo and Groupe Scolaire Nyamugari for support. Masabo collects 3,000 litres of urine from the two schools and about 1,200 litres from the residents in his village each month.
The entrepreneur supplies the schools with organic fertiliser for their gardens, while he buys a litre of urine at Rwf100 from villagers, an increase from Rwf30 when he was starting out.
Market for the manure
One litre of manure costs Rwf380 in the village, and it goes for Rwf400 in other areas. The innovator sells most of the manure to three cooperatives of farmers in Ngoma District, earning a gross income of Rwf1.2 million per month, of which he saves around Rwf200,000.
Through these earnings, Masabo pays fees for his school-going siblings and caters for the family’s basic needs.
The entrepreneur recently won the 2017 YouthConnekt Awards for young innovators, Eastern Province edition and a cash prize of Rwf1 million.
He says he will use the money to expand the project and improve the production process and quality. Masabo plans to roll out the project countrywide to support efforts toward self-reliance as far as importation of fertiliser is concerned.
From producing 16 litres of liquid organic fertiliser almost two years ago, the young innovator currently produces 3,000 litres per month.
The project has created jobs for nine permanent workers, who earn between Rwf50,000 and 80,000 per month each. He also employs 20 other workers on a temporary basis, especially those that collect soil, rice stalks and urine from schools and around the village.
When he was starting out, Masabo was ridiculed by many people, including his own parents. He says his parents pushed him to look for a white collar job and abandon the “shameful” business.
“Others laughed at me, saying I was a disgrace to the community and did not meet their expectations of a graduate. They nicknamed me the “Son of Urine” to show their displeasure,” he says.
I advise fellow youth to think big and use the skills gained from school to help improve community welfare and standards of living. Youth also should avoid laziness and shun what they call small jobs, he adds.
“Don’t fear to take risks and follow your dream…That way, you will be able to fully exploit your potential and serve community needs,” he advises.
What others say about Masabo
Emmanuel Shyaka, the president of Dutere Imbere Muhinzi Cooperative in Ngoma, said his crop production has increased from 500 to 800 kilogrammes per hectare since they started using the manure.
“The project is also benefitting the community and will boost agriculture production in the district,” Shyaka adds.