Nine agribusiness entrepreneurs to watch in East Africa

Teddy Ruge founded Raintree Farms, a Ugandan business which specialises in the production of moringa products

How we made it in Africa has interviewed many of the top entrepreneurs – both up-and-coming and established – operating in East Africa’s agribusiness and food industry. Here is a selection of nine businesspeople capitalising on the sector’s potential.

1. Cultivating mushrooms for East Africa’s growing middle class. Rwanda-based Kigali Farms produces a variety of mushrooms that are sold within the country and in markets such as Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. Founder Laurent Demuynck believes Rwanda is ideal for the cultivation of certain high-value vegetables and fruits for export to other East African nations. “There is a future for good quality, organic and intensive horticulture in Rwanda. Owing to its proximity to Kenya – where there is a lot of purchasing power – I think it is a great business idea to set up the production of high-value crops.” Read about Demuynck’s journey from brewing beer in the US to a mushroom business in Rwanda.

2. Tapping into the $7 billion international market for superfood moringa. Uganda-based Raintree Farms, established in 2012, specialises in the production and processing of organic moringa, a crop known for its health benefits. The company’s farm and processing facility are located in western Uganda near the town of Masindi. Moringa powder is exported to players in the international wellness industry. The business also produces moringa oil under the Qwezi Beauty brand. Find out why Raintree CEO Teddy Ruge wants Uganda to have a bigger slice of the moringa industry.

3. Fertiliser and animal feed from insect larvae. Ecodudu is a Kenyan company which manufactures organic fertiliser and animal feed from insect larvae. To keep up with current and projected demand, the business recently announced the construction of a new eight-acre rearing facility to breed black soldier flies. Situated 75 kilometres outside of Nairobi, the facility will be used primarily to produce the company’s two main commercial products: Dudu Meal, an insect-based animal feed for aquaculture and other feed stocks; and Shamba Mix, an organic fertiliser. Ecodudu CEO Adan Mohammed provides a snapshot of the business.

4. Adding value to sweet potatoes. CARL Group is a Rwandan company that processes sweet potatoes to produce bread and biscuits under the Vita brand. The sweet potatoes are sourced from more than 1,000 farmers across the country. CEO Umugiraneza Regis says the company’s bread is targeted at middle-income consumers while the biscuits are aimed at rural communities. See our full interview with Regis.

5. Entrepreneur uncovers export market for dried cassava leaves product. Pierre Damien Mbatezimana’s company Shekina developed a packaged dried cassava leaves product, which drastically reduces the cooking time of this Central and West African delicacy. The Rwanda-based business already exports to several countries – including Uganda, Congo, Burundi, Kenya, the US, Canada, Belgium, Sweden and the UK – but Mbatezimana sees huge growth potential in West Africa where cassava leaves are consumed in large quantities and there are currently few companies that dry them. “This is a technology that can be replicated in many African countries, especially in West Africa,” he says. Learn more about Pierre Damien Mbatezimana’s business.

6. Millet snacks for health-conscious consumers. Irene Etyang is the founder of Akimaa Africa, a Kenya-based company that produces snack foods from millet, a cereal crop. Akimaa’s flagship product is a gluten-free millet bar. “The growth opportunities are massive. Because of Covid-19, many people are becoming more health conscious. We are targeting about 10% of the health-conscious, middle-income earners in Kenya with our products,” explains Etyang. Discover more about this food processing start-up seeking to benefit from health and wellness trend.

7. Profiting from soya beans, rice and maize. Crops such as maize and rice are widely consumed throughout Africa. However, making money from these commodities can be challenging owing to low margins and the significant economies of scale required. Uganda-based Divine Masters Limited has built a sustainable business by cultivating and trading soya beans, rice and maize. The company grows these crops on its own land and also buys from over 120,000 third-party smallholder farmers. How we made it in Africa speaks to founder and CEO Orisa Raphael Jawino about how he built the business.

8. Commercialising camel milk. Africa is home to 86% of the world’s camels. The urbanised public is slowly but surely realising the value of camel milk, which is beneficial for lactose-intolerant consumers and has less cholesterol. Kenyan entrepreneur Hassan Bashir is tapping into this opportunity through his company Nourishing Nomads and aims to produce 30,000 litres of camel milk a day within the next five years. Here’s how Bashir plans to establish an entire value chain around camel milk in Kenya’s Wajir County.

9. Selling seeds to smallholder farmers. Josephine Okot, founder of Victoria Seeds, differentiated her business from the competition by ensuring the best quality seeds and by offering rural farmers products in packaging tailor-made for this market. “The farmers prefer to see what is in the bag, so we adapted our packaging in this way,” says Okot. Victoria Seeds also sold smaller packs than the competition was offering; 2kg instead of the 5kg or 10kg usually used for field crop seeds (such as maize and sorghum). For vegetable seeds, Victoria Seeds offered 10g sachets. Read how Okot built a thriving company by catering to the needs of smallholders.