Twenty years ago this date (April 7), Rwanda plunged into genocide, 100 days in which more than 1,000,000 Tutsis were massacred and everything was destroyed. In the past 20 years Rwanda has pulled its economy up from the ruins to become one of Africa’s most dynamic and fastest growing economies. And women have been playing great role in the recovery. During the genocide against Tutsis, Donatille Nibagwire’s family was massacred. But this woman has found the strength to rebuild her life as an agribusiness entrepreneur…
Losing one’s entire family at a go can be devastating. One’s world turns upside down. But for Donatille Nibagwire, the killing of her entire family during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi was a spur — a detonator that sent her flying into life.
Left to the elements, life forced Mrs Nibagwire to plough on, to be innovative, to chart her own path.
She is one of the several genocide survivors who shrugged off that horrible episode in Rwanda’s history — an unspeakable madness that left about one million people dead — and went on to raise a happy family and run a successful business.
Following in the footsteps of her late father — her biggest inspiration to date — Mrs Nigabwire founded Floris-Rwanda, a successful agribusiness concern that exports flowers and Rwandan décor items to Europe. She founded the company 13 years ago.
Lessons from her father
“My father was a popular farmer. I always watched the way he worked keenly … he successfully ran one of the country’s model farms — growing coffee and avocados among other crops. So many local farmers used to visit our farm to learn from him,” she recalls.
When she started Floris-Rwanda, the lessons she learned while watching her father work came in handy and paid off.
Three months after the launch of her business, her clientele base grew so big that she couldn’t meet the demand for fruits and other plant products.
Life is defined by opportunities, so they say. Mrs Ngabwire’s defining moment came when she met and partnered with a business person from Belgium who was interested in exporting organic bananas to the European market.
For Floris-Rwanda, this was an opportunity that could not be blown. Mrs Nibagwire quickly mobilised farmers in Kirehe District to grow bananas — organically — on a large scale.
Today, working with about 538 households, Mrs Nibagwire has not only contributed to the reduction of poverty in rural Rwanda, but her company has grown to become the top exporter of organic bananas in the country.
She says: “It is cheaper to grow crops organically and yet the returns on the export market are quite high. We don’t use manufactured fertilisers when growing our crops. What is more, this farming system protects our environment and health.”
Mrs Nibagwire’s manages 22 farmers who provide leadership to the different zones of farming households in the Gatore Sector of Kirehe District to ensure that they meet Floris-Rwanda’s standards of crop production. They have to maintain their plantations organically and use better farming techniques for maximum output.
In addition to fresh bananas, Nibagwire’s company exports banana wine, baby food, and champagne. The firm is also planning to export dry bananas and grow organic vegetables using greenhouses.
“Bananas grown in Rwanda are currently the best from East Africa on the European market. Following a survey based on samples taken in Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania and tested in European agri-labs, our bananas have been chosen as the best for the past three years,” Mrs Nibagwire reveals.
“Our biggest challenge has been the high cost of air transportation. We currently export about one to two tonnes of organic bananas to Belgium,” she says.
In addition, Mrs Nabagwire’s company contracts a German company to inspect outgrowers’ plantations, farmers and their products, which is a prerequisite for Floris-Rwanda to acquire or renew the Certificate of Exportation.
Costs aside, “There is a general challenge when it comes to packaging for export — we always have to import boxes from Uganda or Kenya because there is no company that produces packaging materials in Rwanda,” Mrs Nibagwire laments.
Mrs Nibagwire is the current representative of Rwanda at the Africa Women in Agribusiness platform, as well as chair of the Chamber of Women in Agribusiness at Rwanda’s Private Sector Federation.
Be that as it may, Mrs Nibagwire is not about to rest on her laurels. She plans to increase the number of farmers she works with and initiate more partnerships with companies in Europe — specifically in the UK, Germany, France, and Sweden.
“I am building my company in such a way that it exists for generations. This sustainability model is the legacy I want to leave for the next generation,” she says.
The only thing that saddens her is what happened in 1994. “Losing my family is the only thing that really makes me sad. However, I thank God that now I have another family. I am a proud mother of four children — the source of my inspiration,” she says.
“I believe that women have to work hard to achieve their goals. I always encourage and tell our farmers — especially the women — that regardless of what happened during the genocide, they should work hard and develop themselves, their families and their country,” she concludes.
The article was primarily published on The East African website