Agnes Nyinawumuntu, a former housemaid is today a model coffee farmer in Rukara, Kayonza District.
From a 10 hactare coffee farm, she earns millions and employs dozens of people.
This is a feat the former housemaid never dreamed of 10 years ago.
While many still wonder how a former housemaid managed to become a successful entrepreneur, Nyinawumuntu attributes her success to hard work, focus and the political stability that has prevailed in the country since the end of 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
How she started
Nyinawumuntu says she started out as a house maid in Kigali.
Even with this lowly job, she treated it like all her life depended on it.
“Even while working as a house maid, I stayed focused and this turned me into a self-driven person,” she says.
Indeed, it is this self-motivation and the small salary she was earning as a maid that pushed the mother 5 to head back to Kayonza to take on farming.
“I started farming but at a subsistence level, growing mainly food crops including maize and beans,” she narrated adding that to boost her production, she had no choice but to mobilize more women to form a strong farming cooperative; one that would help transform their skills and enhance productivity.
That is how Sustainable Harvest Rwanda and Twongere Umusaruro Coffee Washing station was started.
She explained that with a cooperative in place it was very easy for farmers to consolidate land, access farm inputs and most importantly market produce.
“The focus was more on commercial agriculture and particularly farming for export to get good profit as a farmer and indeed in 2010 we all agreed to venture into coffee farming with hope that we would make it as women in this business.”
Embracing value addition
To further profit from coffee export business Nyinawumuntu established a coffee washing station to help add value to her produce before she went on to invest in coffee roasting.
“The idea was to add value to what we were producing as a cooperative and make it attract a competitive market price on global scale.”
Meanwhile, the need to produce for global market and adding value to her produce poised serious challenges for Nyinawumuntu.
First of all, it required a lot of capital, which she could not find at the time but secondly, value addition meant having access to adequate and reliable power supply, which was not the case. The cooperative was left with no choice but to depend on off grid alternatives going forward.
“This of course affected prospects of increasing my profitability both as an individual as well as the cooperative.”
More so, the 43-year-old coffee farmer says, the poor road network has always been a challenge ever since she joined the coffee business in Kayonza.
“Most feeder roads are nearly impassable especially during the rainy season, which makes transporting our produce to the market very difficult,” she added urging government to invest more in improving rural road networks.
Furthermore Nyinawumuntu says, market price fluctuation is yet another challenge affecting her business.
“As an exporter, it is always difficult to predict what the price will be or how the world will respond to increased supply, this affects us in terms of planning but also when setting farm gate prices,” she noted.
Despite the challenges, Nyinawumuntu, does not regret the decision to venture into coffee business. From a simple maid, she earns more than Rwf5million from coffee exports.
And as a cooperative, their annual export revenue averages at about $200,000 which is shared among 163 members.
She says, it is from the coffee business that she has managed to take her 5 children to school, constructed a home and bought more land among many other achievements.
Tips on how to profit from coffee
According to Nyinawumuntu, it is imperative that coffee farmers plant the right size of plantlets.
This will help them harvest coffee between one year and two years if they carry out good agronomic practices.
Selecting the right type of coffee is a high paying investment that will make farmers more competitive in terms of quality, she said advising farmers to always consult agronomists.
She adds that farmers must also ensure that the nursery bed from which they intend to get the plantlets from is recommended by the area agricultural services extension officer.
Most importantly, they must ensure all coffee goes through washing stations to further boost quality.
Advice to women
Nyinawumuntu says women must take on agriculture and be ready to compete in all aspects.
“Some women out there don’t want to work and wait for men to provide; however they must know that the business trends are changing and this is the time for women to take the lead,” she said.
Equally, she says, farmers must involve and embrace technology to be able to increase yields and profit from agriculture as an economic activity.
Her plan and first priority is to work closely with government especially Rwanda Energy Group (REG) and to ensure Sustainable Harvest Rwanda and Twongere Umusaruro Coffee Washing station are connected to the national grid as soon as possible.
What other people say about her?
According to Annette Uwiragiye, Nyinawumuntu, is a self-driven farmer that is inspiring many people in Kayonza.
“She rarely complains about work and is always willing to share her knowledge, experience and expertise.”