The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Sina Has Built a Huge Business Empire From a Small Bakery

When he started out as a small baker in 1983, many people wrote him off as a joker. The then 20-year-old had started the small bakery with about $50 (about Rwf33,000 today) and raw materials from his parent's farm.

Many thought he would not last a year in the then exclusive territory of largely old men, who had a lot of money. But he dared to dream and 'forced' himself into this exclusive club of older entrepreneurs.

Today, Sina Gérard is a respected model commercial farmer and agricultural produce processor, in Nyirangarama, Musanze, Northern Province and has no regrets for having tried his fortunes at business.

Sina's simple beginnings did not stop him from building a huge business empire that involves agro-processing and a restaurant chain.

Growth and expansion

As the bakery stabilised and started bringing in good returns, Sina expanded and ventured into fruit juice-making, taking advantage of the numerous family fruit trees. With time, he realised that he could earn more money by applying advanced technology to process farm produce. So, in 1999, using savings from his business, he partnered with local farmers, bought juice-making equipment and also invested in juice preservation research.

Like he predicted, the move didn't disappoint, which encouraged him to diversify his enterprise. That is how he started a piggery project, cattle, goat and rabbit rearing units, plus wine production.

The 'never-say-die', entrepreneur is now a proud owner of Urwibutso Enterprises, which runs a chain of restaurants, a water bottling company and biscuit and chilli-making factories.

The former ordinary baker, who originally employed one person, now employs 280 full-time workers and about 3,000 others depend on his businesses indirectly.

He also gives farmers, hybrid cows, seedlings and trains them free of charge to make them better farmers.

Because of Sina's business acumen, many people think that he went to some of the top business schools in the West. The no-nonsense processor is a self-taught, determined and result-oriented entrepreneur; that is his big plan.

"The reason I wake up every morning and work with zeal from morning to sunset is because I have an obligation to contribute to nation building," he says.

Sina is now focusing on driving agricultural change in rural communities. Always the innovator, he has started producing strawberries rather than staple foods, and growing exotic fruits, such as grapes and apples for wine production. He also plans to expand his business empire into the export industry.

Challenges

The major challenges his enterprise faces are lack of skilled manpower as most educated people dont want to work in rural areas.

Weather vagaries also hurt his agricultural projects, leading to low output.

This Although his skills in agriculture are transformative, some of Sina's methods are too unconventional. For example, he has been experimenting with playing music to his pigs and claims he has seen an improvement in productivity.

"I have noticed that playing music to pigs improves their appetite and also encourages mating and easy delivery," he notes.

Even if he didn't get a formal education himself, he pays school fees for over 891 young people from poor families. Sina has also started a school, covering nursery, primary and secondary grades, where all children of his employees have free access to education.

"I thought it useful to start the school because I wanted to support my employees and their families.

They work for my company and I make a profit out of their sweat, so I had to find a way of giving back to them," he says.

Sina calls on farmers and budding entrepreneurs to desist from selling unprocessed agricultural produce because this doesn't fetch them good cash.

He also encourages people to invest in agriculture, saying there is a ready market for agro-produce.

His model farming and entrepreneurship skills have won him a number of Rwandan Presidential accolades and trophies, and prizes from the UK, the US, Switzerland, Germany and Kenya.

Sina still lives in his home town Nyirangarama because "I want to help people with similar skills and aspirations like what I had".

Sina is a thriving example of the prosperity that an agricultural and entrepreneurial approach can attain.

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