Abdu Usanase is a Sustainable Land Use Fellow and an award-winning agri-tech innovator based in Kigali, Rwanda. In this interview, he lets us into his world where he is building apps for farmers and inspiring the next generation of food systems leaders through agriculture clubs in universities.
Who is Abdu, the food systems leader?
I am the founder and CEO of Agriresearch Unguka Ltd, a private company that does market-oriented agricultural research and provides extension services. I hold a bachelor’s degree in crop sciences from University of Rwanda. I am an African Food Fellow and climate change activist.
Tell us about your company, Agriresearch Unguka, and how it contributes to transforming food systems.
Agriresearch Unguka Ltd originated from a students’ club which I started in 2018 at the University of Rwanda. Our vision is to be a leading agricultural innovation hub supporting farmers to be healthy and wealthy. To achieve our aim, we are not only developing locally adaptable technologies, we are also training farmers about sustainable farming practices through demonstration plots and model farms among others.
Agriresearch Unguka Ltd has developed two digital tools- AGRITrials and SmartInput- that help farmers to boost farm productivity while conserving the environment. AGRITrials provides daily and seasonal weather information, market information and advice on decision making for their farming businesses. The app was recognized by USAID Feed the Future, Developing Local Extension Capacity (DLEC) project as the best digital extension tool worldwide in 2021. It also won in the best video category for producing a video showcasing how the app works.
SmartInput mobile application helps farmers to use agriculture inputs (fertilizers, seeds and pesticides) as recommended. It was featured in Youth Solutions report 2020, by United Nations, Sustainable Development Solutions Youth Network (UN-SDSN) after emerging among 50 global game changing innovative sustainable projects by youth in 2020.
You are a young entrepreneur and CEO leading a national organization. What does it take to build a company from scratch?
Building a company starts from having a clear vision about a problem worth-solving. Then, you have to be resilient, bold and able to adapt quickly and find solutions to challenges you did not anticipate. Soft skills such as self-awareness are essential. Finally, build a team that embraces the vision and values of your company.
How can we get more young people involved in food systems?
Two things are the biggest barriers for youth in food systems. First is a lack of capacity building. Most young people lack the necessary skills and mentorship and have poor mindsets about agriculture
The second is lack of access to finance. Most financial institutions do not trust youth initiatives and have no willingness to finance them. Removing these barriers through teaching and training young people, giving them opportunities to engage in agriculture, and funding their projects will undoubtedly attract more youth to food systems.
What have been some of your biggest successes in your journey as a food systems leader?
My company, Agriresearch Unguka Ltd recently won the best exhibitor award in research at the 15th Rwanda National Agriculture Show 2022 outshining over 300 other companies and organizations. The theme of the show was “Building Resilience in Agriculture through Modern Technologies.” We exhibited a 'Climate Resilient Model Farm' which integrated a wide range of innovations, including double production, automated irrigation, progressive terracing biopesticides, pomato grafting and value added products such as milk powders and irish potato bread.
I must also mention early beginnings. Back in university, the Agriresearch Club (from which Agriresearch Unguka was built) was recognized as the best club in leading agriculture transformation at the University of Rwanda in 2021. We are actualizing our vision to make Rwanda’s agriculture industry a more climate resilient, environmentally friendly and leading economic sector. To have continued the club’s operations even after I graduated, and to see other university students take it up, has been one of my biggest successes.
If you could go back to the beginning of your journey, what would you do different?
I would place more value on capacity building, networking and developing and leveraging soft skills.
You have been a Fellow at the African Food Fellowship for ten months now. Why should other young food systems leaders apply to join the programme?
The programme is a real guide and mentor for food systems leaders. It gives you the skills to drive food systems transformation through systems thinking which teaches you to handle complexity. I can testify that the learning sessions with my coaches and peers, as well as the networking opportunities will be essential to my success as a food system leader. I would urge food systems actors in Africa to apply to the African Food Fellowship and get the support they need to achieve their dreams.