IMARB Group Limited, Rwanda

Meet Martin Bunane, a 24-year-old Rwandese entrepreneur currently studying Pharmacy in Kigali. Martin was born in Gatagara, a small village in Rwanda, where his family farmed (and ate) mostly potatoes and beans. He saw people in his village affected by malnutrition, undernourishment, and other chronic diseases, but did not understand the reason why. By the time he went to high school at the age of 16 science was clearly his favorite subject. He was determined to find a solution to the health problems that plagued his village.

He began training women in Gatagara on the nutritional values of garlic, and how to serve a balanced diet to their families. Starting with his older sister’s house, he helped women start kitchen gardens by planting different types of vegetables including garlic.

After high school, Martin was offered a scholarship to study civil engineering in the United Kingdom, but chose instead to study pharmacy at home in Rwanda so that he could find time to develop a solution to the health challenges his community faced.      

Remembering how his mother used to give him and his siblings garlic whenever they were sick, he became interested in the plant and researched it.  He realized that garlic contains a compound called allicin, which gives it its unique smell.

Studies show that allicin can boost the immune system, fight the common cold, lower LDL cholesterol, reduce blood pressure and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

To harness his knowledge and skills and establish a sustainable business, Martin submitted an application to participate in the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Regional Leadership Center East Africa Program in 2015. After YALI, an inspired and enthusiastic Martin used the little savings he had, and financial support from family and friends to register IMARB Group Limited – a company whose vision is to become a top supplier of standardized nutritious garlic-based products in East Africa.

To achieve his goal, Martin formed a women’s group called Tuzamurane, and a youth group called Gatagara and began educating its members about the health benefits of garlic. He also encouraged them to grow the vegetable for commercial and home use. The groups in turn raised awareness about the health benefits of garlic to their neighbors and encouraged those who had small plots of land to join their group, grow garlic and sell it for an income.

Martin buys garlic in bulk from farmers he works with, processes them and sells to households, hotels and restaurants that are looking for good quality semi and fully processed garlic products to season their food, alleviate malnutrition as also prevent micronutrient deficiencies and related diseases.

At first, it wasn’t easy securing clients to sell garlic to. Martin knew this so he leveraged his networks to secure meetings with hotel & restaurant owners, as well as key officials within respected institutions in Kigali. His well thought out and passionate presentations, (skills that he learned at YALI) coupled with a product that meets International food standards won him the customer base he was looking for. In less than two years, IMARB Group Limited now supplies semi and fully processed garlic to more than 20 hotels, restaurants, and institutions in Kigali at competitive prices.  

Not only is his customer base growing, but Martin’s resilience and hard work has earned him recognition: Rwanda’s Ministry of Natural Resources awarded IMARB land to create employment opportunities for women to plant and sell garlic.  IMARB also recently won the UNESCO MARS African Scientific Research Award, and late last year, funding from the United States Africa Development Foundation (USADF) to continue the amazing work they are doing. Martin’s participation in conferences and workshops has also expanded is network and earned him new clients.

In Martin’s words - Key takeaways from his entrepreneurial journey so far:

  1. Put yourself out there and talk to people about your new or existing business. Someone out there will listen and provide you with the support you need.
  2. Do not be afraid to have wild ideas in the beginning. Do your research, stay resilient and continue working hard. The long and seemingly never ending hours will pay off eventually.
  3. Persevere in the face of failure – remember, Thomas Edison invented the light bulb after failing 1000 times. His teachers said he was too stupid to learn anything, and he was fired from his first two jobs for being “non-productive.

Martin has had to overcome many challenges in order for his business to get to where it is today. One of the things he learned earlier on was that having an able workforce is a huge contributor to a business’ success or failure. After hiring people without looking at specific skill sets, he lost a lot of precious time and money.  He took a step back and analyzed his hiring system. He realized he needed to take more time to hire the right people for specific positions. Making this change has increased his company’s output and led to overall business growth.

In the next few weeks, Martin plans to visit China to procure new garlic processing machinery for this business. He even has the support of H.E RAO Hongwei, China’s Ambassador to Rwanda.  We are so excited for him and wish him all the best


Till next month, 

Team Thelela.