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Diego Twahirwa: My Journey to the top of Africa’s spice business

Diego Dieudonné Twahirwa is the CEO and founder of Gashora Farms, an enterprise based in Rwanda which exports chillies and chilli products to Europe. Twahirwa recently shared his story with our Fellows and wider African Food Fellowship audience, inspiring us to “always work on getting stronger” and “make bold moves, both in life, and business.”

Watch the entire session here and read our key takeaways below.

Honour early beginnings

“Since I was in University, I had an entrepreneurship mindset. I kept establishing small businesses while at school,” Twahirwa says of his personal journey, “so when I graduated and moved to Gashora, I decided to start a horticulture business.” With an impressive track record that has seen him become Rwanda’s biggest chilli exporter, Twahirwa has – for himself, his employees, shareholders and suppliers- created a network with a shared vision where everyone is empowered to improve their livelihoods.

At the start of his career, Diego’s main goal and focus was to be the leading chilli producer in the country.

Look for opportunities in unlikely places

He made an early decision to pivot his business towards more innovative solutions and cultivate the agility to counter challenges. The current global food crisis has severely slowed businesses in the region, including his own, but Twahirwa has some tips about how to whether the storm. When it comes to fertiliser supply challenges, for instance, he advises local farmers to bridge the gap by going back to traditional practices such as making our own manure. With the onset of COVID-19, Twahirwa decided to dive more deeply into value addition to maximise diversification and broaden his customer base. He now produces fresh and dry chilli, chilli oils, sauces and pastes. “I am proud to share that today the farm enjoys zero post-harvest losses – another happy outcome,” he says.

“Vet all your clients, because on the way we lost a lot of money,” he cautions. He also advises entrepreneurs to use embassies and government bodies such as the National Agricultural Export Development Board in Rwanda to carry out background checks on prospective buyers.

Develop a good relationship with your suppliers

At the start of his career his main goal and focus was to be the leading chilli producer in the country. Today, he has not only achieved that but he is also a leading player in the spice sector on the continent working with over 10,000 small-scale and commercial farmers across nine countries.

In order to scale up to where he is, Twahirwa underscores the importance of building good relationships with your suppliers. He is passionate is about elevating the quality of life of the farmers and support staff he works with and has long been an instrument for elevating the agricultural practices in the continent.

Twahirwa has grown his company immensely in a relatively short amount of time, and he believes his work is not yet done. He remains committed to expanding his business and growing as a mentor and advocate for food systems transformation in Africa. He additionally believes in employing technology and the best agricultural practices he can find on the continent.

“Even if you cannot have 100 percent modernisation, do your research and innovate” Twahirwa concluded, “don’t just limit yourself to your environment but look for solutions outside the box and outside your country.”