Donatille Nibagwire, the proprietor of FLORIS RWANDA, an agribusiness
export chain that has been running for more than 12 years spoke to the
The SERVICEMAG about her decade-long journey in agribusiness. She is
also the Chair of Rwanda at the Africa Women in Agribusiness (ASA)
platform as well as the Chair of the Chamber of Women in Agribusiness
at Rwanda’s Private Sector Federation (PSF).
By Gloria Iribagiza
Below are the excerpts:
TSM: How did you start your business?
In 2001, I started my business exporting flowers and Rwandan décor but after three months I found other clients who wanted me to export fruits and other plant products. Eventually, I met a business partner from Belgium who was interested in exporting organic bananas and since he was interested in finding market in Europe, I ventured into it. So I started mobilizing banana farmers that grow.
TSM:What is unique about your products?
Our products are unique because they target poverty alleviation by working with about 538 farming households who organically grow crops. We chose 22 farmers to provide oversight to the different zones of farmers in order to meet our standards of quality. This involves ensuring that the farmers maintain their plantations using better farming techniques. It is cheaper to grow crops organically and yet the returns on the export market are quite high. We don’t use manufactured fertilizers when growing our crops and for this reason we are meeting the demands of the European market. More so, this production system protects our environment and health. Besides fresh bananas, we also export banana wine, baby food, Champaign and are looking towards
exporting dry bananas and growing organic vegetables using the greenhouses technics.
TSM:What are some of the highlights of your business?
I am happy to say that Rwandan bananas are currently the best on the European market. Following a survey based on samples taken in Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania were tested in the European agrilabs, our bananas have been categorized as the best for three years now.
TSM: Has it been a smooth ride all these years?
Of course not, our biggest challenge has been the high cost of air transportation. We currently export organic bananas to Belgium. Depending on the demand, we export one-two tones weekly. We also have to incur costs related to inspection of out growers ‘ plantations. This is done by a German Company based in Mauritius that gives us a Certificate of exportation that’s renewable annually. Additionally, there is a general challenge when it comes to packaging for export—we have to import boxes from Uganda or Kenya because there is no company or industry that produces packaging material in Rwanda.
TSM: Do you face any competition at all?
In Rwanda we are the top exporters of organic bananas and our competition is regional—Uganda is our tightest competition. Floris is also one of the top three finalists at the Trademark East Africa challenge Fund (TRAC). Our agribusiness project was selected out of 172 other projects and this has challenged us to not only compete locally, but regionally.
TSM: What is your view of women’s participation in agribusiness in Rwanda?
I believe women have to work hard to achieve their goals. For example, I always ensure that our farmers are equipped to better manage their farms and tell them not to wait for someone else to come and do the work for them. We make them understand that even when the funded projects stop they should be in position to run their farms successfully.
TSM: What inspires you to do what you do?
Most of my inspiration is derived from the joy I find in life. I generally like living a simple life, socializing and networking with other people. I like to pray, laugh and meet new people. I love my family so much—I have four children and they are the reason I’m inspired to do what I do.
TSM: What makes you sad?
Unfortunately, in 1994 I lost my entire family and that is the only thing that really makes me sad. But I thank God that I have another family that I am proud of. Also, the life that my late father led really inspires me. He was a popular farmer and I watched the way he worked; he successfully ran one of the country’s model farms growing coffee, avocados among other crops and many farmers came to our farm to learn from him.
TSM: What big plans do you have for Floris?
In the future, depending on the increasing demand for our organic exports, I hope to increase the number of farming families we work with to thousands. I am looking towards initiating more partnerships with companies in Europe; within the UK, Germany, France and Sweden. I have already sent samples over for testing and we are ready to export organic produce when their markets are ready to receive us. I look forward to a time when people walk into leading agriculture stores or supermarkets in Europe and find fresh produce from Rwanda. Additionally, I am focused on leaving a legacy for the next generation. I am building my company in such a way that it keeps running for generations after I’m gone. I’ve visited several companies that have been passed on from one generation to another and it is amazing—this is what I want for Floris.