A single mother breaks the glass ceiling to become a cassava seed entrepreneur

Above: Eugenia reviewing the cassava pressing machine on Asael’s smartphone (Photo credit: G. Ndibalema, IIITA)

Thirty-six-year-old Eugenia embraces the ups and downs of being a single mother. She works hard planting sunflowers and maize to provide for her family. Eugenia also grows cassava, but at first, only for food. She did not see the need to invest in cassava because of crop diseases like the Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) that impacts its productivity. Yet, things changed in 2018. Eugenia participated in MEDA’s BEST Cassava project and received training in cassava production to become a Cassava Seed Entrepreneur (CSE). As a result of this experience, Eugenia’s knowledge increased, and she viewed the crop differently. Through her training, Eugenia learned that crop diseases spread by sharing planting materials between farmers and she could control their spread by planting better disease-resistant seeds.

“Also, I understood and was convinced that cassava would be a good crop to invest in when I followed the good agronomic practices and management,” Eugenia said.

She partnered with another farmer, Helena Ijomba, where they started a cassava seed production business on a 12-acre farm for a year to raise capital for their startups. In 2019, Eugenia grew five acres of Kiroba Quality Declared Seeds independently.

“The clean cassava seed system has helped reduce the disease infections on cassava and increased productivity. From our improved clean varieties, we harvest up to 10 kg [22 lbs.] from one plant, while those who still use infected, traditional varieties get only 1 kg [2.2 lbs.] or nothing,” Eugenia explains.

Since becoming a CSE, Eugenia’s life has improved: she can now provide her family with food, school fees, and other necessities. She is also renovating her house. Eugenia has invested further in her poultry farm using her cassava seed income and has created jobs for her community. Other farmers in Eugenia’s village have started using technologies on their farms after seeing Eugenia’s success, such as planting cassava crops in rows. She also plans to donate some cassava seeds as many farmers cannot afford to buy enough seeds for their farms.

Eugenia’s thirst for knowledge and drive to create networks and expand her market access contributed to her success. Most of all, she believes that with determination and focus, you can achieve your goals.

Above: Eugenia drying cassava chips that she uprooted after harvesting cassava seeds. These chips will then be transported to her client. (Photo credit: G.Ndibalema, IITA)

“My being a woman does not affect my business as long as I do what the client needs and handle the deal professionally. We have left the era when a woman had to sit back and wait for handouts; one needs to work hard and deliver quality outputs. We are breaking the ceilings just like the way you see many women owning cars and land which were in men’s possession those days,” Eugenia explains.

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  • MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates)

    MEDA is an international economic development organization that creates business solutions to poverty. We work in agri-food market systems, focusing primarily on women and youth in rural communities in the Global South. Our success is measured by income, improved processes, increased knowledge, and the creation of decent work.

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