“What you see is not what it is”

07/05/2014 at 1:52 pm Leave a comment

Guest post by Dr. Enida Friel, Oxfam Ireland

We are headed out of Kigali to visit Shekina Enterprises a medium size company Oxfam has supported since 2008. We drive on very good roads, signposted, with traffic lights that work and that everyone respects. There are foot paths full of school children in uniforms that remind me of my own son who went back to school this week. The order and cleanliness are striking, but not surprising. This is all part of post genocide peace and development vision this country has for itself.

In a matter of minutes we are treated to beautiful hilly scenery that has reminiscences of my birth country Albania. It takes about 1 hour and a half to reach … We are greeted by Pierre Damiem Mbatezimana.  After introductions he starts telling us his story. Because of my medical background I ask him to explain things simply as if he was talking to his children.

‘In 2005- he says- he observed that women traders in the local market threw away the cassava leaves they didn’t sell at the end of the day. Some saw rubbish thrown away, but I saw money. And what you see is not what it is- his motto was- and has always been’ he says.

He built a dryer with local materials and started drying cassava leaves. The result was a product five times lighter that took four times less to cook. He took the dried leaves to a fair. In five days he sold everything, though the fair was opened for ten. He went back and built bigger dryers to dry and sell more leaves. Every other machinery that we see is indeed also built by him using simple local materials.


But as demand for his product grew and he branched into other products he needed even bigger and more powerful dryers. As his supply came mostly from poor women, Oxfam decided to help him source and adapt drying technology from South Africa, while also researching local and export markets for his products. Oxfam supported also training of the women suppliers, getting them organized in groups supporting each other, negotiating predictable and sustainable orders from the Enterprise, and even a higher price for their leaves.

As a result of all this Shekina Enterpise now has an annual turnover of USD200,000; employs 83-100 people ¾ of them women, and takes supplies from 1,000 women. It exports to Belgium, the US, Canada, UK and South Africa. The range of products has grown from dried cassava leaves to cassava flour, dried pineapples, dried apple-bananas, millet, sorgum, maize and wheat flour. The example of Shekina Enterprises is one of win-win for the private sector and poor women and one where growth of the former can truly benefit the latter.

‘What challenges are you facing at the moment?’ I ask. ‘Access to finance to expand production and development of appropriate packaging technology’- he says to mention a few, for which he’s again being supported by Oxfam. ‘Product certification is another’- he says, and is an area that Oxfam supports other producers in Rwanda given the high fees involved. Without it export is not possible. But when the government officials realized the potential of his enterprise, they paid for it entirely from a special fund set up with support from Oxfam.

Before the end of our visit he shows us a massive wooden structure that looks like a hangar for storage. But he has bigger plans, he want to turn it into a natural fridge to store his products using rain water rather than electricity. Indeed what you see is not what it is with this man!





Entry filed under: Livlihoods, MDGs. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

More on public attitudes Irish aid in Africa: Five personal experiences

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