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Making the Most of Cassava Leaves in Rwanda

Pierre Damien Mbatezimana believes that every life has a purpose, and this belief inspired him to start a business to promote food security and landscape restoration in Rwanda.

Rwanda's agricultural sector is vital to the country's economy, making up 33% of its GDP and employing 70% of the population. 

That is why Pierre Damien Mbatezimana wanted to support his fellow Rwandans to reduce agricultural waste and increase the value of crops. His story follows the leaf of the cassava plant, a highly nutritious food that often perished before they could be consumed. He built an energy efficient machine to dry and package the leaves, giving them a two-year shelf life and making them easy to transport and prepare. 

His company, Shekina Enterprise is a food processor founded in 2007 to promote economic agribusiness by exploiting local crops that can be processed into food products for domestic and international markets.

With a low-interest loan from TerraFund for AFR100, an initiative of World Resources Institute, One Tree Planted, and Realize Impact that finances Africa's top restoration enterprises and projects, Shekina is investing in local crops to create economically viable agribusinesses. They partner with farmers to grow large cassava trees in five sectors of Rulindo District in Rwanda’s Northern Province. 

Shekina Enterprise currently works with farmers who manage 350 hectares of land and around 370,000 trees. They employ 75 staff and partner with 1,600 local farmers. Most of these farmers are young people (90%) and women (71%), and they plan to work with an additional 2,000 farmers in the near future. 

“We work with 1,600 farmers, mostly young women who didn’t get a chance to go to university, to grow cassava for our factory, which helps them build their capacity, earn an income, and develop their self-esteem,” says Dr. Romain Kasema, Deputy Managing Director of Shekina Enterprise.

Cassava trees bring opportunity and help to protect Rwanda’s hilly landscape from erosion. Shekina ensures they are carefully  planted and maintained to restore the environment and provide leaves for a range of products. Any unused leaves become compost for organic farming, boosting crop yields and repairing damaged soil.

Shekina Enterprise exports products to a number of African countries as well as the United States, Canada, Belgium, and Britain. They want to expand by improving production technology and building prototypes that can be rolled out to other nations. They are also looking for more partners to help them grow.

Pierre Damien shows us that following your purpose in life can also help others to reach their potential.