Beanz Meanz Development: value addition by cooking and packing nutritious beans


From a GDP perspective, any business that “adds value” to a supply chain  is a good thing. Traditionally countries like Rwanda have been just growing agricultural produce, with other companies/ countries undertaking investment and reaping the benefits of manufacturing of a higher value product.

FarmFresh is  different in that regard. I visited Christian Heremans at their “pilot factory” (a converted house) to see how his company are taking raw beans, and turning them into well packaged cooked beans for consumption in and out of Rwanda.


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Here are some of the key quotes:

“We buy raw beans and process them”

From when the beans are bought from co-operatives and they are sorted, cooked and then put into pouches (rather than tins) for consumption in Rwanda and also neighbouring countries. People were hesitant of buying tinned goods because they think it could be rusty/ old.

“There is an emerging middle class which we want to sell to”

The benefits of using FarmFresh beans is that you save time and energy when it comes to cooking beans. More and more customers are beginning to see the value in this type of consumption. Christian estimates that 5-10% of the population are currently in a position to buy the product.

“Our biggest seller is high iron beans”

This type of bean is much more resistance to pests and is fortified with iron, of which a lot of the population is deficient. The other product is mixed beans but with time they will look to add more flavours in with the beans.

“There are no bean processors in neighbouring countries”

FarmFresh are the only company processing beans in pouches. There’s one company in Kenya doing them in tins but none in Uganda and the DRC.

The reason it hasn’t been done so far is largely to do with it being virgin territory and a lot of companies not having got around to doing it just yet.

“Tomatoes, potatoes and beans are all across Rwanda”

This means that opportunity really exists in processing these types of food across the country. One of the biggest challenges for agroprocessing is consistent supply of produce.

“We currently just sell to supermarkets”

Though in time we might make bigger packages to access different sectors, such as the catering industry.

“Pork is popular in Uganda”

And so FarmFresh might look to do more complex processing such as creating a product which involves other ingredients, such as meat or tomato sauces. People in the Middle East were interested in having these beans flown out there.

“Our current factory is a converted house”

This is the pilot phase where FarmFresh are trialing the operation. Next they will look to go into the Kigali Economic Zone to benefit from the government run area where factories are to be based.

“People in Rwanda aren’t used to processed foods”

This means that consumers, and therefore supermarkets, are sometimes hesitant in using the product. Christian therefore has to do outbound sales to shops and many are surprised that it is possible to buy tasty cooked beans. Often free samples are offered to overcome this resistance.

“We have opened the market”

FarmFresh has really begun this processed bean market and therefore Christian predicts that other companies will soon enter. Especially as the Rwandan consumer expects more and more processed food and the middle class continues to grow.

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Farm Fresh Rwanda:

Why GetIt need to use Whatsapp to deliver food produce in Rwanda, with Lauren Russell


Fresh produce delivery has traditionally been an informal industry in Rwanda. Reliably ordering food isn’t really a thing and so after finishing a contract at the Nike Foundation, Lauren Russell decided to set up GetIt as a way for businesses and consumers to have an easy way of ordering food.

We go into how companies like GetIt are compensating for legacy infrastructure deficiencies, considerations in linking international brands to frontier markets, and how it’s now much easier for Rwandans to buy ingredients for a lasagne.


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Here are some of the key quotes:

“GetIt connects global brands with frontier markets”

It was set up with a view to solving the scaled retail market in Rwanda after Lauren saw a huge opportunity in helping to develop the region. Stores wouldn’t reliably have produce month in month out and so Lauren decided to take the plunge and start her company.

“Rwanda has 147,000 cars for 12 million people”

The country (especially in rural areas) isn’t set up for people to jump in their car and drive to the store to pick up their groceries. GetIt is designed to deliver produce despite this.

“You can’t just throw up a website”

There’s low internet usage (about 80% of the population don’t have access) and even then, people don’t have addresses. So you can’t simply get set up and start delivering to people’s houses when there’s nowhere fixed to deliver to.

“There was no B2B restaurant food delivery company”

Restaurants were ordering food on an ad hoc basis. A guy would go to the market each day to buy produce until some started using GetIt and getting a more reliable and consistent means of getting food delivered to a higher standard.

“Chefs now advise farmers on what they should grow”

A feedback loop now exists between the customers and the producers. Chefs and other consumers have been able to ask producers to modify their production and start introducing new lines which before they hadn’t considered.

“Challenges exist in how small producers operate”

Some producers struggle with the fundamentals of running a small operation in terms of business registration and other quality standards. GetIt look at training these producers and working with government to ensure production is kept to a high and hygenic level.

This is particularly important in terms of getting products ready for export.

“There are only a dozen cold storage facilities in the country”

GetIt are building a facility to store their produce and keep it fresh. It’s built to be powered via solar energy, which essentially creates a huge ice cube to keep things cold in their walk in fridge.

Many of their employees have never felt the experience of being in a cold environment before they step into the walk in the cold room.

“Last year I was delivering from my car, today we do 10,000 tonnes a week”

Since developing their operational system, GetIt have grown to 40 staff and now have a huge truck of deliveries each week. The challenges they are facing involve getting the culture right within the company as it scales across the country.

“No one used mobile money when we started”

GetIt adapted to accept cash because people pre-paying with mobile money was becoming a barrier to customers using the service. Cash is problematic, but at least for now, it is something they are accepting.

GetIt also needed to expand the product range so that customers could get all of their shopping from one place.

“We operate on Facebook because means it free to use”

The way of ordering is done predominantly through social media channels because people don’t eat into their data packages when using websites such as Facebook. More info here.

“There’s never been a need for addresses before”

Rwanda is still pretty community based. You would tell someone your “cell” (collection of 100 households) within an area of the city and then (because everyone knows everyone) you could get directed to the right place just by asking someone.

Before getting things delivered, someone would just go and get you something.

“Franchise businesses can’t get reliable supply to set up in Africa”

Subway, Pizza Hut and hotels need to have high standard supply chains to operate in a developing market. Currently they have a problem of not being able to say for certain that their produce meets international levels.

GetIt builds the supply chain to get international brands to operate in a frontier market.

Typically former English colonies (Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda) have more developed local infrastructure and so they are typically more advanced.

“We see opportunity in countries with less infrastructure”

GetIt believes there is greater opportunity to add value where the infrastructure is poorer than in more advanced places like Nairobi.

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GetItRwanda: TwitterFacebook

Lauren Russell:

Why no toothpicks are made in East Africa? A market evaluation, with Olly Cassels


There’s a surprisingly interesting business to be had in little wooden sticks. Like much of the region, toothpicks are a staple at nearly every restaurant in Rwanda and this is a discussion about the industry operates.

Olly Cassels gives us an overview of the market from his research into the timber production market, along with a lucrative business to be had in other areas of wood processing.


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Here are some of the key quotes:

“Rwanda has a lot of bamboo”

Olly began evaluating the agriculture market in Rwanda by looking at methods to give support to bean plants. In doing so he saw the abundance of bamboo in the country and from there, its other uses. One of which is toothpicks.

“Toothpick types are supply led not demand led”

There are different wood types used in the production of toothpicks. In the US it is mainly birch as it is a fast growing and readily available type of wood. In China it is almost all bamboo.

“Toothpicks are used everywhere in Rwanda”

Pretty much every restaurant in the country has toothpicks on the table and it’s customary to use one or two toothpicks per meal. There is also an image factor involved with people often keeping a pack of toothpicks about their person.

Across the East Africa region it’s probably a $30m-50m industry

“All toothpicks come from China”

There’s a route of importing, middle men, distributors which bring the toothpicks in Rwanda to restaurants that buy them. 60-80% of the cost of a pack of imported toothpicks come from travel and import duty costs meaning there is an opportunity for an African toothpick company to emerge.

“It would be relatively easy to set up a Rwandan toothpick company”

Olly estimates that it would cost $20,000 to buy machinery and begin a production line. With the additional considerations of quality control and ensuring a steady supply of bamboo, it should be plausible for the business to begin.

“Bamboo is green gold”

It is considered a wonder crop. On top of having several commercial uses it has environmental benefits: absorbing carbon, stopping soil erosion, and it grows incredibly quickly.

In Rwanda it is currently underutilised, only being used for scaffolding and artisanal furniture. It’s applications could be far reaching.

“Activated carbon is a secret billion dollar industry”

In China, bamboo is used in the production of activated carbon as a means of capturing carbon through industrial processes. Olly estimates that this market is worth several billion USD and is all centred around the processing of bamboo.

1 gram of activated carbon has a surface area of 15,000 metres squared which shows the industrial scale that it can manage.

“Kebabs is another market to enter”

Skewers used in brochettes (meat kebabs) are essentially big toothpicks. From a production perspective they are similar, although the main consideration is the internodal length of the bamboo. You want to have a continuous stretch of wood that isn’t interrupted by the nodules that exist in bamboo.

“In Japan it’s just pointed at one end”

Whilst we might be used to seeing symmetrical toothpicks, in Japan it is customary to have one side pointed and the other with an ornate design. The grooves in the pick could then be used to snap the toothpick to indicate to others when it had been finished.

Historically people have used bone or ivory to have their own toothpick with them at all times.


Activated Carbon: general overviewscientific studyto buy

Olly Cassels:

Electricity from the sun: how BBOXX’s off-grid solar systems power rural Rwanda, with Justus Mucyo


Off grid electricity is a big thing in Rwanda. The country is not going through the arduous process of establishing the grid, and then getting everybody to connect to it, and so for their energy a lot of Rwandan households are instead are going straight to source: the sun. BBOXX is an organisation providing  such a service at an affordable rate across the country.

Justus (BBOXX’s Rwanda MD) and I discuss the evolution of the sector, adapting customer’s mindsets from ownership to service, and the outlook for “off grid” energy.


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Here are some of the key quotes:

“We sell solar energy all over Rwanda”

Since setting up in the northern provinces of Rwanda in 2014, BBOXX has coverage across the country. They set up shops in towns which act as a local base for customers to get set up. They are looking to open more in order to make their service even more accessible.

“We are not the only players”

There are other companies in the solar energy market which offer off grid electricity solutions. Importantly though the government have begun to realise that private companies offering this energy could help the country develop, rather than necessitating expensive on grid projects.

The government is looking to help with the marketing of off grid electricity, with private companies offering the solutions.

Some of the other off grid companies operating here are: MobisolIgnite PowerOff Grid Electric

“80% of the country is off grid”

This is where BBOXX currently focuses: getting people who have no electricity. That said, connecting to the grid can still be arduous and so some people who are metres from an on grid tower will opt for a BBOXX.

“Customers don’t own the system”

Customers pay for the functionality of having electricity, rather than outright owning the solar panels. If the system breaks down then BBOXX replaces it, ensuring that they still have access to electricity for their monthly plan.

The customers typically own the appliances (which are paid for month by month) and packages for the main system begin at $5/ month.

Ownership sounds exciting until problems are incurred. Many solar systems are left dormant if they break down and the customer is left with an expensive piece of kit that they can’t fix.

“It’s not just the light bulb, it’s the lifestyle”

People are increasingly looking to get additional appliances with their newfound electricity. BBOXX is seeing demand for products such as phone chargers, flash torches and radios which provide entertainment to their customers, beyond simply lights.

Customers aspire to own a TV, especially if their neighbour has one.

“Yes they can afford it”

The current ways in which customers are getting their electricity means that $5/ month is affordable for people. Their power comes from a combination of candles, phone charge kiosks and kerosene stoves.

Most people have mobile phones now, but the nearest trading post where they can charge it are 2-3 kilometres away and that usually costs $0.50 each charge.

“I don’t think there will be one dominant company”

The current players are unlocking a whole new market and so it is plausible that other companies will emerge and specialise in particular parts of the value chain. Only those who remain focused on what they do are likely to prosper.

“Explaining 3 year payment plans was a challenge”

Getting people into the mindset of financing (get something upfront and payback over time) was something which BBOXX initially had to devote time to explaining.

Most customers had only ever been able to buy something with cash, and so were required to save themselves before heading to market. Teaching how they could pay back over time require a shift in mindset.

“The end goal is to replicate this model across the world”

BBOXX are working on refining their systems and processes so that they can take their model and apply it in any emerging market. Their vision is to be the world leader

“The biggest challenge is raising financing”

The local financing industry is just starting to look at this industry. The big opportunity comes in local banks providing financing to customers to get them started with having solar energy.

This is a profitable business that helps people’s lives in a sustainable way. Foreign investors have understood this, and now local financiers are beginning to too.

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BBOXX Rwanda:

Accelerating Rwanda: Aphrodice Mutangana explains how the kLab hub is fostering entrepreneurship


Rwanda’s demography means entrepreneurship is strongly promoted as a means of providing private sector employment for a young population. Aphrodice is General Manager of kLab, Rwanda’s first entrepreneurial hub, and explains how his organisation is doing just that.

kLab opened in 2012 and offers free WiFi, space, and mentorship to businesses starting up. It is a Public Private Partnership that is seeing its membership grow each month.


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Here are some key quotes from the interview

“Rwanda is young”

50% of Rwandans are under 20 and so in order to promote viable employment opportunities, the private sector is required to flourish. This is the main motivation behind setting up kLab, and a strong entrepreneurial environment in general.

“We have seven categories of people who come to kLab”

This varies from people who have just an idea, to those who have a working product ready for the market. In general people use kLab at the beginning of their start up journey, and once they get to a stage where they have a working product they graduate to find an office, and may use the services of another incubators such as Inkomoko or 42 Kura.

“It’s easy to set up a business here…”

The government has really pushed to develop strong facilities to help businesses set up.

It takes only 6 hours to set up a company and it’s free of charge. Renewing passports and other government services is all done electronically and with minimal bureaucracy. This all contributes to creating a business-friendly environment.

“…but there are cultural barriers”

Some entrepreneurs try to copy a business model from a developed country, but these companies fail because they are not customised to the local market.

An example of successfully adapting a developed idea is a company called Mergims.  They are a remittance business (similar to Western Union) but rather than having people send only cash, instead people abroad can pay for things like school fees or other helpful products.

“If you want to go fast, you alone. If you want to go far, you go with others”

This is an African saying that promotes the idea of teamwork. Some entrepreneurs are tempted to go it alone, but the successful ones are those who build partnerships. kLab acts as this hub to allow others to meet and work on ideas together.

“We have a word called ‘Imihigo’

This is a Rwandan concept of contract performance. The organisation has a goal of establishing 100 companies valued at $50m in the next 10 years and so internally, this is the goal that they are working towards.


Air Clerk: mobile payments for bus transport

Torque: software for brewery distribution

Inkomoko: incubator supporting entrepreneurs

42 Kura: Israeli-Rwandan Startup Incubator

Mergims: non-cash remittances

Face The Gorillas: short clip from the Rwandan Dragons Den

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Further reading

For an overview of other companies and organisations operating out of Rwanda, head to the blog post: The Rwandan Start Up Scene.