Journey of a winemaker: The story of Pelagie Mugawneza

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By Dias Nyesiga

 

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Pelagie Mugawneza 25, was a casual worker at Izimpano wine producers in Bugesera district in 2013 and her daily work was to put stickers on bottles. But Mugawneza had a dream of owning her own wine producing   company despite her status.

Mugwaneza the eighth among 13 siblings never gave up. She started saving little money and all she could do was to keep hoping.

But fate played its role when Izimpano producers closed early this year after a misunderstanding between its three directors that rendered Mugwaneza and other employees at the company jobless.

“After the closure, it was then that I decided to focus on my dream business,” Mugwaneza who is now director of Gubwaneza Wines LTD told Rwanda Eye at the ongoing expo taking place in Kigali.

“I had saved Rwf 1 million but I had initially planned Rwf 2.5 million for a humble start,” Mugwaneza said “so I had to solicit more Rwf 1.5 million from the family,” she said as she was interrupted by a client to explain about her pineapple wine brand.

Her company is among the 271 local companies that are exhibiting in this year’s 19th Kigali International trade fair that started on Wednesday with the main focus on promoting made in Rwanda products.

Currently, she produces 250 litres of Banana wine, 400 litres for sugar cane wine 300 litres of banana beer and expects to focus on quality to capture the local market dominated by wines from the Uganda, South Africa, Dubai, Europe, and Asia.

This expo under the government plan of made in Rwanda initiative provides platform for Mugwaneza and other local companies to showcase their products to the public so that they are able to capture market.

“It is my first time but I am getting feedback that is going to help me improve my product. Am also getting market connections,” she added.

The initiative that started in 2014 aims at helping government to address deteriorating trade deficit through mobilizing the public to consume locally made products but also help local companies to increase innovation.

“In these critical situation where our country like other developing country where we have been facing widening trade deficit our trade fair will help increase self-reliance,” said Francois Kanimba, minister of trade and industry while opening the trade fair on Thursday at Expo grounds in Gikondo, Kigali.

Central Bank indicates that import and export bills continued to deteriorate by 11.0 percent to U$752.62 million in the first five months of 2016 from U$677.85 million in the same period in 2015.

The Minister is optimistic that the 15 day trade fair will be an avenue for local companies to test their products’ competitiveness with foreign products.

“Am confident that this trade fair serves as an education hub for local manufacturers and showcase their technologies and innovation to the public,” the Minister said

Nevertheless, the local companies are not swimming in clear waters, as most exhibitors explained to this website still face challenges such as packaging, market access, skills that hamper their growth and competitiveness.

“For example, we import containers where we pack our jelly from Uganda and sometimes it increases our cost of production,” said Ashiraf Nshimiyimana, marketing manager and co-owner of Holly trust ltd, a youth startup from Ngoma district dealing in honey and its bi products   .

For medium industries, water and electricity as Cedric Nkundwanabake, Sales Manager Gitare Mills Ltd from Nyamagabe district explains is still a challenge that makes local products costly compared to foreign products.

“We are still importing some products and machinery we use, and this makes our final product value slightly higher,” said Vedaste Mutungire, president of Isheja cooperative, producing leather products that started saving only Rwf 100 in 2011 to raise a capital of 25 million five years later.

But there is hope as Minister Kanimba explained; the government has been working closely with private sector to address the challenges, with creation of secondary cities’ trade zones in pipeline expected to address water, infrastructure and electricity shortages.

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