Reducing Food Waste and Restoring Land in Rwanda With Cassava Leaves

Rwanda’s agricultural sector accounts for 33% of national GDP and employs about 70% of the population. Cassava is one of three staple food crops in Rwanda, representing nearly 25% of yearly agricultural production. The plant’s starchy root is an important component of many diets, providing reliable and nutritious calories to a growing population in the country, where one fifth of the population is food insecure and 35% of children under five experience malnutrition.

In 2007, Pierre Damien Mbatezimana noticed girls at a local market throwing away extra cassava leaves. The girls explained that the unsold leaves were discarded since they would rot overnight. Alarmed by the waste of this nutritious food, Mbatezimana designed a machine to dry cassava leaves and reduce their perishability. Since then, his company Shekina Enterprise has expanded beyond his home village, selling products in both local and international markets. Shekina has over 1 million cassava plants in its supply chain and exports 60-65% of its products to the United States, Canada, Belgium, and the United Kingdom.

A graduate of the Land Accelerator Africa entrepreneur training program, Mbatezimana creates a market for farmers’ cassava leaves by collecting the leaves at five established collection centers throughout Rwanda. The company works with 2,000 women farmers who supply the leaves to the centers, each managed by a team of 20 women, and then the leaves are dried and packaged at the central factory. There, Mbatezimana employs 25 full-time staff and 65 seasonal workers to process the cassava leaves and support the supply chain.

There’s an environmental benefit, too: Cassava plants keep the soil from eroding and provide shade for other crops. This valuable resource brings wealth back to the small-scale farmers and local community.

After facing operational challenges with COVID-19, the company has rebounded. The launch of a new product – an instant meal of dried cassava leaves with a fish flavoring – and the expansion of farm partnerships puts Shekina on track to net revenues of $650,000 USD in 2025.

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Pierre Damien Mbatezimana, Founder and Managing Director,