Ella Mutuyimana is an entrepreneur and an Access to Nutritious Food Fellow with a passion for initiating social impact projects. She speaks about her experience in the Food Systems Leadership Programme and her plans to empower farmers in the value chain.
Who is Ella, the food systems leader?
I would describe myself as a driven, passionate and empathetic leader. I get my inspiration from living life and looking at how other people live. I like bringing people together to work on a shared goal. I enjoy learning about my job and every new project I undertake. I believe that no one knows everything and this gives me the humility I need to listen and value ideas from different people with different backgrounds.
Tell us about your work at Kigali Farms. What does your typical day look like?
I work as the Chief Impact Officer at Kigali Farms. I am in charge of impact projects which consists of working with smallholder farmers in oyster mushroom farming. I plan and strategize with the leadership team and oversee programme implementation which includes farmers’ trainings and technical support, substrate production and market access.
I also lead progress meetings with external stakeholders, including SNV Horticulture and Oxfam. I spend most of my time in Kigali with frequent travel to our field locations. For instance, every first and last week of the month I spend three days in Musanze where I go to the field for meetings with the farmers and my team.
What would you say has been the most impactful thing you have been a part of as a food systems leader so far?
I would say the biggest impact project at Kigali Farms has been the oyster mushroom project. It started in 2018 and back then we were introducing mushrooms to rural areas where people had no idea what they were. We used to organize cooking sessions and would have some fresh mushrooms to give for free and sometimes people would refuse.
Today, demand is so high that we often negotiate with our farmers to give us a few more kilos – on some days we do not have enough supply. This project has created what I would call professional mushroom farmers and regular consumers. It has helped organize a selling point in Gisenyi which was back then profiting only the middle men and it has influenced the increase in price of mushrooms from 1.06 euro to 1.50 euros in three years. In areas where we operate, farmers are more open to adopting this crop as they are profiting from it and we see local consumers easily convinced to add it in their diet. I hope to create the same impact in Kigali in 2022.
What drives your passion for access to nutritious food and food systems in general?
I would like to influence whatever value chain I find myself in now or in the future to consider and understand the efforts of farmers. I would like consumers to consume food with an understanding of where and how the food was produced. I would like to keep working with different stakeholders to enable easy access to nutritious foods for those who do not have the means without jeopardizing the profits that farmers deserve from producing those foods.
What have been the biggest lessons you have learnt in your career? Is there anything you would do different?
I have learnt to listen to different voices and to take time to process my ideas through other people’s perspectives. I have learnt that context, culture and language count and should always be considered when presenting an idea or trying to make a sustainable influence. We work in a diverse environment so I have learnt not to shy away when I am confused but rather to ask questions and get more information. If I had to do something differently today it would be to do this even more.
Why is it important for women to participate in food systems leadership in Africa?
In most African cultures women are the ones who choose or decide on their family diet and types of foods. Even when busy, or have maids at home, they know and take care of what their families are consuming. Although women have not been traditionally accomodated in the official labour force, they still hold influence at household level which should be leveraged to create more involvement in high systems leadership levels.
You have been a Fellow at the African Food Fellowship for four months now. Why should other young women food systems leaders apply to join the programme?
Women hold immense power in society and they must use it. This opportunity opens doors to show that your idea is not crazy, you are not alone and once you discuss with other food systems leaders you realize how much you all care for the development of your country. You start thinking as a systems leader when before you thought of yourself as just a leader.
The Fellowship has taught me how to prioritize my ideas to get the most results. It has influenced the way I plan to achieve change by showing me the importance of networks and collaboration. I would encourage whoever wants to make a sustainable change to apply. You will learn a lot and you will be with other impressive and driven systems leaders who will challenge your perspective, help you deepen your idea analysis and give you more clarity on how to implement it.