Mastaki Bwinja: Growing the Agricultural Sector in Congo
In April 2022, the East Africa Community (EAC) expanded to include the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as the seventh member state. DRC formally joined the EAC after the signing of the Treaty of the Accession of the DRC into the EAC in Nairobi, Kenya. The inclusion of DRC expands the trade bloc, giving member states coast to coast access – from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean.
This year too, Ghislaine Bwinja Mastaki, an international student from DRC, began the first module of the Master of Management in Agribusiness programme in March at the Strathmore University Business School. After two years of this course, he envisions acquiring skills that will assist in revolutionizing the agricultural sector in his hometown, Kivu, and ultimately the country, DRC. “I am keen on improving the production, distribution and sale of agricultural products. I am also passionate about food processing.”
The 2020 lockdown, which did away with in-person gatherings and introduced social distancing, made it difficult for the inhabitants of Kivu to access goods they normally would acquire from the market. “You typically will not find mama mboga in the neighbourhood as you do here in Kenya. We have centralised markets, like Wakulima, where everyone goes to get their groceries. As such, it can get crowded.”
This pandemic situation pushed Mastaki, together with Dastin Kakira – also an SU alumnus – and David Ikundji, to rethink how to get commodities to consumers. They created ‘Kivu Sokoni’, an e-commerce platform that would link farmers, local suppliers and vendors to households and institutions. The website allowed consumers to order dry and fresh food. “With our idea, we saved them from the hustle of going out and interacting with others, thus keeping them safe.”
With time, however, they discovered that the platform was new to many of their customers who preferred to phone in to make an order as opposed to completing the process online. Majority also showed up physically to select and pick up the items. “They wanted the in-person market experience – to touch the tomatoes, scrutinize them before putting them in the basket. So we put up a physical shop stocked with vegetables, fruits, meat, sea food, eggs, and fresh juice. This brought the market close to them and increased our customer reach.”
Creating a niche
The low internet penetration statistics in the country also worked against the e-commerce start up. According to the 2021 Hootsuite #Digital2021 report, there were 39.63 million mobile connections and 21.14 million internet users in the DRC, a country that has a population of 90.96 million. The cost is also a hindrance: The Congolese fork out $100 for 10Mpbs internet connection. In spite of these challenges, Kivu Sokoni created a niche and penetrated the food produce market. Their idea also made a mark in the annual Hult Prize; the team won the regional prize and made it to the acceleration programme in the UK.
The trio hope that Kivu Sokoni will, in the long run, be there to help farmers move from subsistence farming and venture into agribusiness. Currently, the country imports 80% of its food, from amaranth, eggs, tomatoes, to fish. “It’s culture – we view farming as a hobby, or an activity that provides food only for our families, but not as a business. Yet, we have tracks and tracks of fertile land that can be harnessed.”
Mastaki would thus like to change mindsets and put agriculture at the forefront of contributing to the country’s GDP, which is currently at 42.5%.
“We need our farmers to increase production which will translate to more fresh food on our plates. But for this to happen, we have to create mechanisms that assist in production and marketing. So far, we’ve worked with a few farmers and so far so good.”
The business will contribute to SDGs aligned to agribusiness: number 1 – No Poverty, 2 –Zero Hunger, and 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production.
Mastaki first came to Strathmore in 2016 for the Diploma in Business Management course. During his stay on campus as an undergraduate student, he was the International Students’ Association DRC Country leader, and the Secretary General in the 11th Student Council.
He joined the Bachelor of Commerce programme and graduated in the Class of 2021 with a double major in Finance and Marketing. He then went back home full of high ideals, goals and aspirations. “It was the first time I was seeing how the business operated on the ground. I thought it would be a smooth run but I encountered challenges as soon I got there. The road infrastructure was a deterrent as there were few access roads. That made getting to the farmers and the produce tough. We even struggled with getting a cold storage room to transport the produce.”
Through it all, Mastaki has come to experience the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. “Entrepreneurship is not easy. You fail more than you succeed. But when you succeed, you succeed big. When I got back into the family business, it dawned on me that it’s not a walk in the park. When you are young, they show you the easy part, and you only realise what it costs when you have your feet in it.”
This article was written by Wambui Gachari.
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