Aurore Umubyei is a 26-year-old outstanding Rwandan woman who pursued her education and career in Food Process Engineering at the University of Ghana in Legon. She is currently the Operations Manager at FRESHPAK Rwanda Limited, an agri-business company that directly exports fresh fruit and vegetables that are grown, processed and packed in Rwanda.

Irrespective of the gender gap that was quite evident in the science course— where there were only four female students in a class of over 40—she said she wasn’t deterred or discouraged from achieving her life’s aspirations.

The disparity in gender in her class, she says didn’t come as a shock as she was accustomed to this trend in all the science classes she had taken; she is also, an alumni of Lycee De Kigali Secondary school where she pursued her high school education, majoring in Bio-chemistry.

Why agri-business…
“Agribusiness is important especially for us Africans because we have a lot of land and good planting seasons— we are blessed with everything we need to produce quality food,” Aurore says which she emphasized as a factor that places Rwanda at a unique position to meet the demands on the international market for fresh produce.

“There is a high demand for organic produce from Africa on the international market because it is fresh and tasty. This could be attributed to the difference in planting seasons and the amount of pesticides they put in their crops—and I believe this in itself provides a unique opportunity for us to invest and make a name for Rwanda.”

When she completed her education, job searching in her field presented more challenges than opportunities. However, she finally landed a job in Bralirwa in Gisenyi where her skills and education could finally be put to test.

“People kept asking me why I choose the course I did which had only led me to a job meant for men and not women. This was mostly because it was a technical and hands-on job that involved hard labour, climbing structures among other tasks,” she says adding, “however, I must say most of these comments came from the ‘baturage’ (villagers) who don’t understand that women can do any job as good as men as long as they are qualified for the position.”

Thankfully, Aurore says she wasn’t discouraged by these comments. She attributes her change in perspective to the exposure she received while studying in Ghana where she had seen how women were emancipated. One day Aurore received a phone call from the owner founder of FRESHPAK Rwanda, who was looking for someone with her exact job skills.

“For the first time after a long wait, I was very grateful for the industry-specific course I had pursued at university,” she says. She was hired as the Operations Manager at the company that directly exports hot pepper, bananas, egg plants, avocado, fresh and dry beans, tamarillo (ibinyomoro) among other fruits and vegetables, to countries like; Belgium and Netherlands in Europe, Dubai in Asia and Congo Brazzaville, DR Congo and Gabon in Africa. An annual approximate of 3 tonnes of produce is exported during peak season and 1.5 tonnes during the dry season.

The process… Over seven cooperatives take their produce to collecting points in Kibungo, Mutara and Nyamata in the Eastern Province. From the collecting points, the produce is transported to the park house where it’s sorted, cleaned and packaged. Thereafter, agronomists from the National Agriculture Export Board (NAEB) and the Ministry of Agriculture inspect the produce to validate its quality. A Phyto-sanitary certificate from the inspectors is awarded as an indication that the produce is in good condition for export. Finally, it is transported to the airport where it’s stored in a cold room pending FRESHPAK’s scheduled flights for export.

“Some of the challenges we face with exporting perishable produce is that; the cold room is quite expensive, there is an insane need for strict coordination because if you miss out on the details of flights, the produce will be left behind to waste and also, there is an issue of finding the kind of boxes we use for packaging on the Rwandan market, which has led to us importing from Kenya,” explains Aurore. Despite all these challenges, the Operations Manager says, the upside of dealing with perishable produce is, a taxfree trade seeing as there is no added value since products are not processed and a vibrant international customer base with a high demand for fresh Rwandan agricultural produce.

“I like what I do because we make a difference in people’s lives; even though rural farmers are not able to export the produce they grow, we are happy to connect with them as the middlemen. “I especially love my job because I contribute towards making a name for Rwanda. When we export something that has ‘Produce of Rwanda’, I’m happy to be part of that.

The reputation for quality has already been set by other exports from Rwanda and we are glad to maintain that quality with the products we export,” said Aurore.

Message to other women… “More women and female students should be inspired and motivated to pursue careers in agriculture. There is a wide array of interesting fields that can be explored. The world is changing and it’s becoming more about having great ideas and putting them into action—we have everything we need to succeed,” she said.

Besides her job, Aurore enjoys reading, watching movies, trying out new things and challenging herself to go beyond her limitations.
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