Meet Sakina Usengimana, founder of Afri Foods – a horticultural company based in Rwanda. The firm exports crops such as chili, avocado, eggplant and passion fruit to Europe and Dubai.
It took two failed attempts for Usengimana to become successful in the horticulture business. According to the Rwanda business woman, the failed attempts taught her valuable lessons. First, she noticed that she needed the right skill sets and, secondly, picking the right crop and thirdly, lining up her first client and then securing supply.
Prior to venturing into horticulture, she worked in Rwanda’s hospitality industry. Then, the inspiration for her business was to come from a speech she heard at a Youth Connect UNDP seminar that left a lasting impression on her.
“You have land, yet you are hungry. Those are the exact words he used to talk about the African continent. Hearing that, I was determined to do something to bring about change. That is when I began farming with fruits and vegetables,” she told howwemadeitinafrica.
Usengimana first started with bell peppers and tomatoes but they all failed because she didn’t have the request skills. In response to this, she left the agriculture field to continue her education.
After her education, she contemplated returning to corporate work in Rwanda but decided to give agriculture a second try along with her husband, to cultivate chilies. After three harvests, they decided to call it quits.
Having learned some important lessons from her previous failed attempts, she approached the chairman of Rwanda Horticulture Exporters Association to link her with a client for chili pepper. She got connected to clients from the Netherlands, leading to the birth of Afri Foods.
“I was just coming out of the experience of having invested with partners without success. I did not have any money left to make mistakes,” she says of her decision to buy the chili pepper from other farmers rather than cultivating it herself. “I wanted to understand the trading side first.”
In 2020, Usengimana got the opportunity to attend Fruit Logistica – a fresh produce show in Germany. This gave her the opportunity to meet face to face with potential investors and at the end of the program, she added three more clients to her list.
Afri Foods sources its crops from smallholder farmers and co-operatives. The business decided to fortify its supply chain and raise its own output from these farms in response to the influx of customers and the corresponding rise in demand.
Today, Afri Foods contributes around 30% of all the chilli required for export clients from its own farms, according to howwemadeitinafrica. It also grows eggplant.
Usengimana’s future plans include moving into processing for some of the crops it currently sells. For now, identifying the right crops for future investment is also crucial for her business.