Good Food for Cities

Youth-Led Resilience: Generation Food’s Impact in DRC

August 17, 2023
Bonnke Safari
Good Food for Cities Programme Coordinator

In today’s changing world, disruptions like pandemics and conflicts are shaping the way we secure our daily food supply. Countries with low food resilience are more vulnerable to the effects of these challenges. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) imports 75% of its food and spends an estimated $3.9 billion a year on food imports. This economic dependence threatens access to and availability of safe and nutritious food.

Traditional vegetable market in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The FAO’s State of Food and Nutrition Report 2023, meanwhile, paints a sobering picture. The number of people suffering from hunger increased by 122 million between 2019 and 2022, due to the pandemic and conflicts. Despite improvements in some regions, hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition continue to rise in areas like West Asia, the Caribbean and several sub-regions of Africa.

In this context, the demographic outlook for the DRC still can be hopeful: 68% of the population are aged between 18 and 35. Yet, 84% face youth unemployment. And government initiatives such as the National Programme for Investment in Agriculture (PNIA, 2013) and the National Food Programme (NFP, 2010), aimed at boosting the agricultural sector, have not been effective in involving young people or stimulating inclusive innovation.

Generation Food: Empowering Youth for Change

Young people’s dynamism can be channelled into the food sector to bring forward innovative, more inclusive and sustainable business models. In turn, this can enhance resilience and the creation of decent jobs.

Rikolto’s Generation Food harnesses this potential. The programme connects emerging entrepreneurs to vital skills, knowledge, tools and a wider business network, strengthening local food systems against shocks.

Generation Food is one of the approaches of Rikolto's international Good Food for Cities programme.

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In 2022, we launched Generation Food in two cities: partnering with the "Un Jour Nouveau" business learning hub in Goma and collaborating with business incubator "Orheol" in Bukavu.

A Collaborative Programme

The journey kicked off in 2022 with an awareness campaign among young agripreneurs in Goma and Bukavu. We also launched a 14-day online registration period.

In both cities, 1,570 young candidates with business ideas and small food businesses registered.

A local steering committee - including “LICOSKI ”, the agricultural inspectorate, experts and a SAGE Business Academy consultant - selected the top 80 businesses in Goma and Bukavu.

The 6-month incubation curriculum incorporated a range of topics including business management, market intelligence, product quality, marketing and branding, financial literacy, insurance, cost structure, business networking, taxation and pricing.

Following the trail of the Generation Food graduates

A total of 68 young entrepreneurs completed the programme in both cities in 2022. Would you like to meet this new wave of Generation Food graduates?

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Meet Mwema Manegabe Lydia

Among Generation Food graduates, Mwema Manegabe Lydia stands out.  At the age of 27, this bold entrepreneur with a BSc in Agriculture founded “JOSLY-Enterprise”, a local safe fresh juice company in Bukavu.

In 2019, two failed attempts in Tanganyika Province didn’t discourage Lydia. Partly because she tried to focus on the technical side of producing vegetables and fruits in a greenhouse, but overlooked how to market what she produced. When harvest time came, the produce was there, but there were no buyers. Her produce, which is perishable by nature, ended up being sold at a low price or even spoilt.

Her resolve was renewed, she says, after being selected as a participant in Rikolto’s Generation Food programme in Bukavu. As part of the programme, Lydia shared her knowledge with other young entrepreneurs and mentors, learning how to identify her customers and secure contracts more effectively.

“Our business plan was strengthened by the incubation programme. Our sales have increased considerably, especially after we participated in the first Urban Business Show of Christmas in Bukavu, organised by Rikolto. Through networking events, we also secured five contracts to supply schools with safe fresh juice.” - Mwema Manegabe Lydia

With a $200 start, her turnover reached $1,060 in 7 months. She plans to invest in permanent vending machines in Bukavu schools.

Transforming Food E-commerce: Mushagasha Murhula Jean-Fisher

Mushagasha Murhula Jean-Fisher, a 32-year-old entrepreneur, returned to the DRC after completing a Master’s in Computer Science in Uganda. He co-founded Circle Technology Ltd. in Bukavu with three friends.

As they were setting up their business in Bukavu, they identified a gap - there was no innovation in the e-commerce sector for food distribution. This inspired them to explore the possibility of online food distribution, with an emphasis on safe and locally sourced products.

Murhula said: “I dedicated six months to this project, receiving guidance from mentors and working nights programming the platform. In four months, we completed our business plan and marketing strategy.”

The results came after they shared their project pitch with Generation Food participants. They managed to secure 25 annual contracts for their platform, And with 23 contracts in the registration process, this business-to-consumer (B2C) platform enabled the direct sale of 5,000 items.

Mushagasha Murhula Jean-Fisher.

But their vision went further. They wanted to integrate their platform with the farmers’ cooperative and the city’s vendors’ committee. At the same time, they wanted to raise awareness among urban consumers about safe access to food and provide information about agricultural practices through SMS messages.

“Our goal was quite clear: to establish ourselves as the leading national online platform for safe food and to foster partnerships with local food stakeholders,” he explained.

Empowering Schools through Fresh Produce: Winnie Sokoto’s Journey

Winnie Sokoto, 32, heads Ghinner Business. This business specialises in the aggregation of locally grown fruits – such as pineapples, passion fruits, mangoes, guavas and strawberries – and spices – such as ginger, turmeric, parsley etc. She holds a BSc in Agriculture from the Université Evangélique en Afrique (“U.E.A.”) in Bukavu.

Through the marketing and business mentorship of Orheol in Bukavu, Winnie has had the opportunity to network with various contacts. This has led to productive business relationships, for example with schools through Rikolto. Ghinner Business has benefited from the initiative. Their quarterly sales have increased by 65% compared to the previous sales plan.

Ghinner Business now supplies 50 cases of fresh and safe juice to schools every month - a profitable venture. Winnie’s conviction is growing:

“With 1,200 units in a single contract, we can build a sustainable business, especially with schools.”

Armel Tehna: Navigating Food Entrepreneurship

At the age of 29, the medical graduate discovered his passion for culinary ventures that fuel both the body and the mind. Founder of Matunda Enterprise, Armel began by producing juices in Bukavu. However, the market response caused setbacks that forced him to relocate to Goma.

In Goma, Armel joined the Generation Food 2022 bootcamp organised by the hub Un Jour Nouveau. This bootcamp provided tools to structure his ideas and connect with cooperatives around Goma. Despite the civil unrest in the city, Armel worked with the mentorship of the Un Jour Nouveau (UJN) hub to learn about food marketing and distribution in Goma.

Armel Tehna, founder of Matunda.

As a result, Matunda Enterprise has signed contracts with more than 39 urban households and two restaurants. It supplies fruit and vegetables to Goma. Armel has delivered six tonnes of Matunda produce.

He explained that the rewards of food entrepreneurship outweigh the pursuit of urban employment. His vision is to engage 50 young entrepreneurs and harness their collective power to extend their influence to Bukavu.

Strengthening the bean sector: Sadiki Mukandamana’s story

Meet Sadiki Mukandamana, a bean farmer from the Masisi region. Despite the challenges of control by M23 rebels, Sadiki remains committed to farming his leased land, determined to overcome insecurity.

On trips to the supermarkets in Goma city, Sadiki noticed a gap in the market - the absence of locally packaged beans. He found that the only options available were imported beans, often of questionable quality. Driven by an urge to provide consistent, high-quality, ready-to-cook beans, he ventured into the homogenised bean business within the city.

However, entering the market in late 2021 came with its own set of challenges. Sadiki came across the Generation Food Programme’s online call for applications . According to Sadiki, this programme provided the guidance he needed. He applied and was selected immediately, taking his quality bean business through the pitch, incubation and mentoring process.

Sadiki is now the CEO of Madesu, a brand focused on branded, homogenised and ready-to-cook beans. The market response has been remarkable, with an impressive 89% satisfaction rate among urban consumers. Since the beginning of 2023, the brand has distributed 2,500 x 1kg packs.

Looking ahead, Sadiki plans to diversify its packaging based on market demand, introducing 1kg, 5kg and 10kg packs next month. He sees opportunities in urban bean distribution in Goma, despite price fluctuations. In a strategic move to strengthen his supply chain with high-quality beans, he’s actively exploring ways to involve Idjwi cooperatives related to Rikolto' projects.

Next steps

68 agripreneurs have set up well-structured businesses. Rikolto is currently investing in the creation of a social enterprise for the graduates of the "Groupement d'Intérêt Économique des Jeunes Agripreneurs du Kivu-GAKI". So what exactly does this mean for these young agripreneurs?

First, it's about strengthening their collective power. Rikolto recognises that when these agripreneurs come together, their collective potential multiplies. By pooling their resources, knowledge and experience, they increase their capacity to withstand challenges and seize opportunities. In addition, Rikolto is supporting the creation of a shared physical market. The market isn't just a place to buy and sell; it encourages the consumption of local, nutritious food, while opening up another commercial channel for everyone involved.

Editors: Selene Casanova - International Communications, Rikolto and Arsène Nyangezi - Communication Coordinator, Rikolto in East Africa. Photo credits: Orheol/Rikolto.

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