Assumpta Uwamariya couldn’t help the feeling of frustration and distraught that trailed her post-college days. After putting in those many years of academic work which culminated in her obtaining a degree in Clinical Psychology, she was awoken to the harsh reality that there just might not be a place for her in Rwanda’s populated labour market.
In the years that followed her graduation from college, she would claw at every crumb that came her way and chase every lead in the hopes of securing gainful employment. But in the end, every route she took seemed to turn out a cul-de-sac-how she must have felt stuck on some kind of slippery slope to nowhere.
As is the case for many other African youths, Assumpta’s situation was representative of the dilemma many of her peers walk right into.
It’s quite disheartening that it is now something of a status quo for many undergraduates in this part of the world to become graduates, and then be stuck in a limbo created by the staggering rate of unemployment.
The tertiary institutions are churning out thousands of graduates on a yearly, but there just aren’t enough institutions to absorb them. And like most, Assumpta was hit by the unpleasant scenario. But unlike many, she knew the onus was on her to do something about it, and she was willing too.
Having given up on chasing employment that promised so much yet delivered nothing in the end, she began to try her hands on different businesses. Between selling vegetables and handling bridal makeovers/decorations for weddings, she was making just about enough to stay afloat.
Assumpta was not one to sit on her own hands and wait for things to magically turn out good, she had no problems sticking her fingers in many different pies. And the same attitude soon got her involved in helping put together a team of female footballers to represent her country in a competitive outing.
By that time, she was already carving up a reputation for herself as a dogged individual who had no qualms sweating for her bread. Assumpta was able to nail down a temporary job on a project run by a German fund in Ruhengeri; a locale in Rwanda’s Musanze District.
Part of her responsibility on the job was to purchase fresh fruits from the local market and make juice for the staff of the organisation.
It was on one of those many ‘fruit trips’ that it began to dawn on her just how valuable fruits are.
Although she wasn’t really making a killing, she was certainly making more money than ever by buying the fruits and making juice – an exercise that she began with less than a dollar – and she began to wonder if there are ways she could create more value from the product. That was when it occurred to her to explore wine-making.
Assumpta sounded the idea off one of the members of the project who then introduced her to a friend in Germany. Before long, connections were made and she had begun learning the process of making quality wines from the German.
But that wasn’t exactly her first encounter with wine-making. As a child, she had assisted her parents in transforming banana juice into wine on numerous occasions. The wine produced was usually shared with house guests who came calling every now and then.
Having augmented her rudimentary knowledge of wine-making with the skills she had newly acquired, it was time to truly set her foot down. Since she didn’t have much by way of funds, it was always going to be difficult to get started, but she was not to be deterred.
In Rwanda, Grapes and Bananas are the most common fruits used in making wines but acquiring sufficient quantities of those demands relatively steep pricing. To get past this challenge, she needed to find an alternative and that required some outside-the-box thinking. And while she was at it, the solution did reveal itself.
Assumpta Uwamariya identified an opportunity which involved making wine from locally-grown beetroot. She settled for the vegetable crop having seen first hand the wastage that emanated from the production of beetroot in Rwanda’s Rubavu District.
Due to the absence of a ready market for the commodity, tonnes of beetroot was going to waste, and where others saw an unmitigable problem, she saw a way to upscale the Rwandan wine industry. So, she went about making a unique kind of wine from beetroot which is now widely considered a national bestseller.
She started by experimenting with beetroots and pineapples to see if she could make a business out of it. She would make the wine and offer it to friends and neighbours so as to get their thoughts on the product.
To her surprise, she got a lot of positive response and that suggested she was on track. She continued to produce the wine, this time for sale, albeit on a small scale, and it literally became the toast of her immediate community.
As time passed, it was time to talk next steps and go big as a formal, commercial entity. But first, she had to surmount some hurdles. Since the business was going into commercial production, it meant Assumpta had to pay a huge sum to lease a brewery house since the business didn’t have its own plant, and also get more beetroot farmers on her side.
That wasn’t all. She had to also procure quality processing equipment to aid the production process and packaging materials to impart some degree of class and standard to the product. She didn’t have the financial muscle to bear the weight of those needs and the people who had the funds weren’t exactly jumping at the idea of writing cheques for a woman who wanted to venture into such an unusual terrain.
She gathered all the funds she could lay hands on and against the odds, she established Karisimbi Wines Limited in 2016. Her company produces high-quality wines in three variants – beetroot, pineapple, and banana – from homegrown produce out of a factory and wine shop situated in Mahoko centre.
In addition to buying beetroot from local farmers in the district, Assumpta also manages a three-hectare beetroot farm from where she harvests produce to augment production. The production process involves cutting the beetroot into tiny pieces, boiling, and allowing to ferment. The final product is a red wine that contains up to 18 percent alcohol by volume.
When she started out with the venture, the company was selling 100 bottles of wine per month. These days, however, it claims to be doing well over 600 bottles weekly. Also, Karisimbi Wines Limited currently employs up to 16 permanent members of staff and a further 10 on casual employment.
Salaries are believed to approach USD 900.00 monthly and the company recently procured a vehicle to aid distribution. The company’s products can be found in stores across Rwanda and parts of neighbouring Congo DRC.
In the last couple of years, Karisimbi Wines Limited has gobbled up several awards, including the Bank of Kigali’s inaugural BK Urumuri Entrepreneurship Initiative’s interest-free loan worth USD 10 K, and the YouthConnekt Best Innovator Award where Assumpta took home the USD 5.7 K prize money.
She ascribes the success she has so far enjoyed to the determination to trudge on even when the terrain is difficult and the willingness to get started in spite of financial constraints.
“Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have much money to start your business. The initial capital is not the cash, but the business idea you have. It is the business idea that will generate the cash, not the cash that will start the business,” she says.
It’s quite impressive how her company has grossed over USD 45 K in earnings within two years of setting up shop, having only started her part-time juice-making business with as little as Rwf 200 (USD 0.23). The Rwandan entrepreneur is hoping to extend the brand’s international footprint across the African continent in the coming years.
Feature Image Courtesy: Kigali Today