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YALI Voices Podcast: Auxence Muhigwa Talks Producing Healthy Soybean Oil in the DRC
December 3, 2018

Auxence Muhigwa is the founder and chief executive officer of the Center for Youth Emancipation and Development (CYED). Muhigwa produces high-quality and cholesterol-free soybean cooking oil. Muhigwa, who studied supply chain in school, decided to produce soybean cooking oil because of its nutritional value and the economic prosperity locally produced soybean oil brings to his community.

Auxence Muhigwa, second from right, at an exhibition of his products (Courtesy of Auxence Muhigwa)
Auxence Muhigwa, second from right, at an exhibition of his products (Courtesy of Auxence Muhigwa)

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Muhigwa grew up, agriculture is a sector that is often overlooked. He believes that developing and growing the agriculture value chain is key to supporting farmers, packagers, distributors and the youths he employs. Speaking more about CYED and the positive impact he is making on his community as a social entrepreneur, Muhigwa stated: “I have youth who are in charge with selling the product. And my target customers are households and boarding schools. Now I’m running the whole supply chain, from the farmers to the consumer’s table. I train farmers in organic soybean farming and post-harvest techniques.”

Muhigwa’s soybean oil production does not come without the occasional challenge. He stated: “Currently, the challenge I’m facing there is that the oil that I’m producing and the soy meal that I’m producing is way low than the demand. So there’s a serious mismatch between supply and demand.” Muhigwa does not plan on stopping anytime soon. He has high hopes for his soybean oil production and is intent on providing food security and employment to as many agriculturists as possible. He will be “hiring more youth and training them in production. And I’m also increasing the revenue of all those farmers, small women farmers in the villages. I’ll also build confidence in other youth. They’ll increase their self-efficacy: Believe that you can start something and make it.”

Learn more about Auxence Muhigwa’s journey in agribusiness and his strategies for financing and connecting with investors by listening to this YALI Voices podcast or read the transcript below.






MUHIGWA: My name is Auxence Muhigwa. I’m from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I grew up in eastern Congo in a town called Bukavu. I have a bachelor’s degree in international relations and a master’s degree in supply chain. What made me switch to supply chain from international relations to supply chain? I saw a potential in business in my city, Bukavu. Agriculture is a sector that is really neglected in my town.


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VOICEOVER: Welcome to the YALI Voices podcast, your home for sharing the best stories from the Young African Leaders Initiative Network. Be sure to subscribe to YALI Voices wherever you get your podcasts. Listen to all the podcasts at yali.lab.dev.getusinfo.com, where you can also stay up to date on all things YALI.

Auxence Muhigwa is the founder and chief executive officer of the Center for Youth Emancipation and Development, or CYED. It is an agribusiness that produces organic soybean oil and is committed to developing a reliable and growing agriculture value chain to support farmers, packagers, distributors and the youth that Auxence employs.

In this YALI Voices podcast, Auxence talks about why and how he started his agribusiness and takes us step by step through his organic soybean oil value chain.


MUHIGWA: People tend to go into politics and into gold mining, and they forget about agriculture. I believe agriculture is the answer, is the key to development. So I decided to go for a master’s in supply chain, and my father had to sell his land, and the other members of the community had to put together some money for me to go and study.

They saw the passion I had in me. I really wanted to do business. I really wanted to design something, some business idea that will bring many stakeholders and players together so that we gain together from the business idea, and that was a soybean value chain.

I saw the effect on the people because in my country, there is no cooking oil company. All the oil is being imported from neighboring countries and even from China. And people are complaining about the cholesterol level in those oils. So I tried to analyze and see how I can help the community and produce oil locally. But I didn’t have any knowledge in cooking oil production. So I decided to go back to school, study supply chain and learn how to produce cooking oil.

Now I’m running the whole supply chain, from the farmers to the consumer’s table. I train farmers in organic soybean farming and post-harvest techniques. That’s storage of the seeds, of the crops. And I buy the beans from them. These people had no market for their beans. They will produce 10 tons of beans, but they didn’t have markets.

So I had to come in and help them increase their revenue in giving them access to market. So they sell the beans to me, and I process the beans. I have a small-scale processing, oil production factory, which I made with the help of a mechanical engineer.

So after processing, getting the oil and the byproducts, we work with drivers with a 3PL company — third-party logistics — which transports the oil and the residue from the village and out to town, where our selling point is. The driver … once the driver deliver the oil and the soy meal to the selling points, I have young people there.

I have youth who are in charge of selling the products. And my target customers are households and boarding schools. Currently, the challenge I’m facing there is that the oil that I’m producing and the soy meal that I’m producing is way low than the demand, yeah. So there’s a serious mismatch between supply and demand, which is a good thing. That shows if I could increase my production capacity, the business will really grow.

Yeah, for me to sell my oil, the first tip was to register my business, to register the business. I bootstrapped everything. I used my own money to register the business, and after getting the business registered, I get the … I got the permits. It’s called vegetable oil production permit in my community. So when I got it from the government, the local government, this was a go-ahead to me.


MUHIGWA: What made me decide to go for the soybean was the nutritional value of the soybean, first. And, secondly, I saw that the soybean is produced only around in my town. And there was no company producing soybean oil locally. All the oil was being imported.

The imported cooking oil, the imported cooking oil was full of cholesterol, full of cholesterol. And according to research carried on by a friend of mine who’s a medical doctor, he says that that cholesterol was leading to hypertension, stroke and diabetes, was causing hypertension, stroke and diabetes in the community.

And he believed that with the organic soybean oil, we can solve that problem. With organic soybean oil, we can really solve that problem because if people start consuming organic soybean oil instead of the imported cooking oil which is loaded with cholesterol, they will definitely recover their health and be more productive in life.

So I said with all this oil, maybe I could do something. It was just an idea first. I could not believe that I was going to make it. I say let me try to do something. After … right after my studies of the supply chain in Uganda, I came back to my town, and I was … from my savings, from my personal savings, I … I looked on the internet. And I saw an oil press machine, because I could not afford to buy a cooking oil production line. It was too much money. I tried to look around and ask for the price. It was really, really, really high price. I could not make it. So with the help of a mechanical engineer, after looking at the prototype of the machine online, we decided to reverse engineer that machine.

It took us six months to reverse engineer the machine, and what we got from the oil press and the minirefiner was crude oil, good oil. This is dark oil. It can be consumed. So we had to restart again afresh and work on the screw of the oil press. It took us two months to get the right screw. And from there, we got now the oil. Refined oil and feed for consumption, for human consumption. We took the oil for test, for testing … at a laboratory in my town, and they said it’s really fit for consumption. You can sell it.

Now the next step is increasing my production capacity. Because now people like my oil. It has a high nutrition value, and it’s somehow cheap compared to the imported cooking oil. But I cannot meet their demand anymore. So my only bet now is to get another production line.

My first option is to build another machine locally, and the other one is to, is to procure a modern production line.


MUHIGWA: On the packaging, I had to think of sourcing, sourcing bottles from Uganda. There are manufacturers, producers of bottles in Uganda. So I had to get in touch with them and source from them, because thinking of producing the bottles locally, making the bottles locally would have distracted me from my objective, because that’s not my core activity. My core activity is to produce organic soybean oil. So I just decided to outsource that activity here.

Now I’ve got it bottled, and it has a brand. The brand is the name of the organization, CYED. It’s called CYED, and it’s known in my town. CYED is Corporation for Youth, Emancipation and Development.


MUHIGWA: The next is now getting it into markets seriously, because the households should not be my only target. I want now to sell the oil to supermarkets, to more boarding schools, to hotels, etc. But I’m a bit, I’m a bit reserved to making that move because of my production capacity. I’m producing a hundred liters per day. If I approach supermarkets, boarding schools, hotels, they’ll be asking for more. And when I’ll fail to supply, I will lose … I’ll lose the reputation that I’m currently having. At a hundred liters per day, I’m supplying 75 clients.


MUHIGWA: To properly scale up my business, I need to procure another production line. Making it locally was good, but I did not get enough oil from it. With a locally built machine, the highest quantity you can get is a hundred liters. And a hundred liters is really insignificant compared to the demand. Now my plan is to source to procure machine, a modern machine. And maybe after getting that modern machine, think of reverse engineering it in the future. But I need first to get a machine, produce enough soybean oil and soy meal and supply it to the members of my community.

Adding another production line in my supply chain will mean increasing and capacitating all the key players of my supply chain. From the farmers, I should now train them on how to produce enough soybean and how to stock enough soybean. The warehouse, which we would think of rebuilding it, adding space, because if I talk about 10 TDP machine, a machine that can produce let me say 2,000 liters per day, that will mean at least 6,000, six tons of oil per day. Six tons of soybean per day. And the farmers have the capacity of producing it. But still I have to train them and increase on the warehouse. That’s from the farmer’s side. Then try to also affect the transportation system. I’ll have to get another 3PL, because the 3PL I’m doing business with currently has only one truck. And that won’t be enough. I’ll have to contract another 3PL and make sure they’re flexible and agile enough to get me the beans to the factory.

Another one will be hiring more youth and training them in production, in organic soybean oil production. That’s at the processing stage. And from the processing stage to the selling points now and the delivery, I’ll have to think about renting out a bigger selling point like a store, a bigger store that can accommodate all the oil and the soy meal that I’ll be producing.

From there, we’re going now to marketing. That will require now serious marketing because I should now think of getting into the market by approaching supermarkets, approaching central markets, local markets, approaching more boarding schools and even more households and telling them about my product, the health benefits of my product and how cost-effective is it to them.


MUHIGWA: As a soybean oil producer, I believe that I can change the life of many people in my community in terms of finance and health. When I produce organic soybean oil in significant quantities, it’s the whole of the community of Bukavu that I’m impacting. And I’m also increasing the revenue of all those farmers, small women farmers in the villages.

And this is helping them take their children to school, and the youth are really unemployed in my country. I have to say that. If this will mean also employing them, helping them become independent and pursue their dreams thanks to the soy value chain, and also the other side, we shall be having … I’ll also build confidence in other youth. They’ll increase their self-efficacy: Believe that you can start something and make it. I want to be an example to the other youth and tell them that there’s future in agribusiness, and they can only believe if they really see me succeed in agribusiness here.

Personally, I want to understand more, increase my knowledge of agriculture value chain and organic food production. In running a value chain, a soybean value chain, I believe that this is giving me more experience in the food chain industry, and it’s helping me respond to the food security problems in my community. So in terms of knowledge, it’s really a gain to me. And it means also becoming independent, financially independent, and as I said, being also a role model to the other youth in my community. I want to stand there and tell them that there’s future in agribusiness, and they really see it in me, and they also try to start other agribusiness in the community.

VOICEOVER: We asked Auxence how he plans to finance the growth of his business. Here he outlines challenges and options for funding and shares details on specific opportunities that he’s pursuing.

MUHIGWA: For financing, I’m thinking of two strategies. The first one is applying for a loan, but applying for a loan will mean me having some collateral, which I don’t have. I try to approach a bank in my town, and they told me they can’t give me a loan because I don’t have any collateral. Like this is the collateral they wanted from me was a land title, which I don’t have. My other option is applying for grants, which I’m now actively doing. I’m applying. I’m applying again and again, but I haven’t yet gotten any positive feedback. I forget to mention that after getting the refined cooking oil, soybean oil, I was invited by Tetra Tech.

Tetra Tech is an American organization, which is implementing the USA project called Feed the Future, Strengthening Value Chains. They invited me to come to their exhibition — that was November 2017 — and tell people about my products. I go there with my team, and people were amazed. People liked my product. I went there with 200 liters, and they bought all 200 liters. And people wanted to know how I did it, how I came up with the idea, and it was really something that boosted my self-confidence again. I’m looking forward maybe to being their partner in the future because the project is going to run for five years.

Taking on investors is a good idea, but not at this stage. I want first to grow at a certain level, then from there I can now bring in investors. You know, at this stage I still look at it as a concept that is growing. I’m still rebuilding it, restructuring it. Once I get it right in terms of production capacity and control of all the players in the chain, that’s when I can think of bringing in investors.


MUHIGWA: The advice I will give to young people in my community is never to wait too long to start a business. It’s very hard to get a loan or to get a loan from banks or to get someone who will give you just free money to start a business. Try to bootstrap. Have the idea, then get something maybe from family members or maybe from your own saving. And start from there. It was hard for me. You know, I started with $2,000; $2,000 to build a soybean oil production line is really, really unbelievable, because the whole production line is around $150,000. Now, this is someone standing there with $2,000 and wants to do the same thing. But I did it because I had the passion. I wanted to get something out of it and help my community, help myself and help young people believe in themselves.

VOICEOVER: Thank you, Auxence, for that enlightening and informative trip along your value chain. Auxence plans to position CYED as a leader in the production of high-quality soybean and sunflower oil in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He hopes to reach more than 20,000 households and expand his business to more provinces.

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