TechInAfrica – In Rwanda, pumpkins used to be less important crop but it wasn’t anymore ever since Zima Enterprise has proceeded it into something more valuable. Marie Ange Mukagahima, an entrepreneur who is the founder of Zima Enterprise, started research on how to process pumpkins into profitable products and sell it across the country.
Zima Enterprise was founded in 2016 and since then has been committed to producing pumpkin-based products, such as flour, pastries, roasted seeds, and seed oil. The idea came from the founder herself when she realized that her hometown, Muhanga, had produced lots of pumpkins but fewer people consumed or purchased them. In fact, people often referred to it as “women food”.
According to Mukagahima, pumpkin farmers didn’t really make profits out of the product as people didn’t really buy it. When she was a little girl, she often wondered why pumpkins were considered “unattractive” despite its nutritional value and its medicinal power to prevent prostate cancer and diabetes.
She was curious about them and then began research on how healthy and nutritious they were. She found out that the content with vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, and dietary fibers. Interestingly, they don’t boost cholesterol levels.
“I thought of how pumpkins could be processed into pastries, how it could help farmers and provide jobs to the unemployed while generating profit for me,” said Mukagahima recalling how the idea began.
Due to her curiosity, she also began to look for recipes on the internet, mostly about how to make bread out of pumpkins. She even asked a nearby bakery and used their oven to make pumpkin bread. Her first experiment on the pumpkin bread was impressing so that it encouraged her to apply for the DOT Rwanda’s Social Enterprise Competition in 2017. She won the competition.
Also in the same year, Mukagahima was awarded as an outstanding young entrepreneur in the Southern Province at the YouthConnekt Awards. As a result, she was invited to participate in an incubator held by the Workforce Development Authority (WDA). Not only did she receive an oven and a solar dryer for running her business but also a cash prize of Rwf 1 million. She then also won the National YouthConnekt Awards and awarded with Rwf 5 million. All the money went to grow her business.
When she was asked about challenges she faced, Mukagahima said: “Running a business isn’t an easy task. It requires one to work harder and think deeper. When we started, we didn’t have any equipment and the pastries we make require this, especially if we want to make it in large quantities for the mass market.”
Despite all the challenges she has faced, Mukagahima was proud that her business has achieved some good progress. She’s able to promote her business through exhibitions, advertisements, and trade shows. They help her to get more recognition in the market.
Mukagahima has a future target to sell her products to all regions in Rwanda and export them to East Africa and China. In order to meet the target, she is willing to improve her product quality. Even more, she plans on buying machines to increase her production volume.