How this CEO built his business
Norce Elysee Gatarayiha was working for a food research project under the Rwandan Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources in the late 1990s. At the time, the government wanted to boost exports and diversify agriculture and had a list of suggested new crops that might work for the country. Macadamia was on that list and Gatarayiha took the opportunity to open her own food business. Jeanette Clark tells him about how he developed Norelga Macadamia into a business selling both local and international markets.
Establishment of a new culture
Gatarayiha had seen macadamias on a trip to neighboring Kenya and decided to start his own orchard. He went from farm to farm, encouraging other farmers to follow suit and plant a tree they didn’t know, with only the promise that they would reap the fruits in five to seven years when the first harvest was ready. . He created the Twihangire cooperative, adding farmers as they joined.
“I was working with small farmers, advocating the use of the trees to intercrop with corn,” he says. Gatarayiha would inform farmers of both the lucrative free market price of nuts and the longevity of production, as a tree could provide substantial harvests for up to 100 years.
Between 2000 and 2003, the first trees were planted and the long wait began (it takes up to seven years for a tree to reach full production). Gatarayiha also planted trees on his own farm, using his personal savings.
But when the first harvests were available, there was no market to sell the macadamia nuts. As a result, some farmers became discouraged and even started cutting down the trees they had grown until production.
Gatarayiha decided to step in and process the nuts himself to add value before finding customers. He drew on the knowledge of the same Kenyan and Zimbabwean friends who first introduced him to the culture, to guide the initial transformation operations.
“I picked the nuts, shelled them manually with a hammer,” Gatarayiha recalls. In 2010 it registered Norelga Macadamia and in 2011 the company was registered with the Rwanda Development Board and received its quality certification from the Rwanda Standards Board.
Initially everything was manual and over time Gatarayiha sourced second-hand equipment from Kenya and gradually increased production, shelling the nuts and selling them raw or roasted to local supermarkets.
“Slowly, as I made a profit, I used the funds to buy more nuts from the farmers for processing. “
As the Rwanda Standards Board developed a manufacturing standard for nuts, Gatarayiha moved his operations from his home, where he started, to a new facility. The company also landed its first large customer, RwandAir.
Then, in 2015, the company benefited from a capital injection from the Dutch organization SPARK. It was a $ 100,000 equity investment, which was used to purchase various machinery for cracking, roasting and packing nuts.
In 2020, Gatarayiha bought the final share from SPARK. “Now we are back as a family business with 50% of the shares owned by myself and 50% by my wife and we are happy to continue on this path.”
Sales and diversification
Initially, to find buyers for her product, Norelga targeted local supermarkets. When it landed the contract with RwandAir, the company contacted players in the hotel industry and added a few hotels, such as the Radisson and the Marriott.
People, however, were unfamiliar with macadamia and in the process of selling Gatarayiha educated customers on the difference between macadamia nuts and what the market was used to, peanuts.
The wife of Gatarayiha, a capital partner in the company, suggested that the company add peanuts to its product inventory, thereby increasing the company’s sales and revenue.
Today, Norelga produces and sells roasted and dried macadamia nuts, macadamia oil and lotion, roasted peanuts and unroasted peanut flour, peanut butter, oil of sunflower and raw sugar cane juice.
It exports to Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Europe, South Africa, the Netherlands, Poland, Vietnam and China.
“We export, but not in large quantities. For example, in the Netherlands, companies take between 200 kg and 500 kg. In the United States, we had a company last year that put on 300 kg. Gatarayiha believes export growth will increase steadily and has received requests from Germany, the UK and the US asking for around five tonnes per month.
Cultivate relationships with planters
From the beginnings of the Twihangire cooperative to where Norelga is today, the company has remained focused on building good relationships with the farmers it sources from. Norelga has her own 50 ha farm but supports the outgrowers with inexpensive saplings when they establish a plantation and collection centers in four provinces to bring the harvested nuts to the Kigali factory.
“We continue to work closely with farmers. You can still find me in different parts of Rwanda organizing the harvest collection and showing the farmers how they can grow macadamia better, ”says Gatarayiha.
Norelga may have been one of the first commercial processors of macadamia in Rwanda, but it faces increasing competition from new entrants. For example, Japanese and Chinese companies have established themselves in the country. Norelga remains one of the few producers to add value before selling to the end customer.
“I was the promoter of macadamia in the country and a pioneer. But it is not for nothing that it is called the golden nut; if anyone realizes that they can get gold, they will come running, ”Gatarayiha said.
Contact details for Norce Elysee Gatarayiha, CEO of Norelga Macadamia
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