Rwandan scientist aims to squeeze more out of pineapple sector

by Emma Batha | @emmabatha | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 8 March 2012 16:19 GMT

Some 40 to 80 percent of fruit and vegetables grown in Rwanda go to waste, says nutritionist Christine Mukantwali

LONDON (TrustLaw) - Here’s a shocking fact. Some 40 to 80 percent of fruit and vegetables grown in Rwanda go to waste. This is all the more disturbing given that 45 percent of children under five in the country are chronically malnourished.

These figures were cited by nutritionist Christine Mukantwali, who is determined to see Rwandans make better use of their crops, which in turn will help reduce poverty and malnutrition.

She has her sights set on the country’s booming pineapple sector. She wants to develop the skills of small-scale pineapple processors – most of whom are women – to help them increase the shelf life of their products, such as juice, which will open up new markets.

“If I’m able to help these women to produce more, to increase their income, then these women will be able to go back to their families and improve the nutrition of their children and their livelihood in general,” she said.

A senior scientist with the Rwanda Agriculture Board, she spoke to TrustLaw when she visited London this week ahead of March 8’s International Women’s Day, a day focused on empowering rural women.

The purpose of her trip was to address a group of British MPs on how African women scientists can help tackle the continent's food challenges.

Although women produce most of the food in Africa, few women are in leadership positions in the continent’s agricultural research institutions.

In 2010 Mukantwali won a fellowship with the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development, a project honing the leadership skills of some of the continent’s most promising female agricultural scientists.

Mukantwali’s achievements are all the more amazing given her background. She lost both parents and all but one of her six siblings in the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Only she and her younger brother survived.

“We survived. As long as I am living, I have to live well,” AWARD recently quoted her as saying.

IMPROVING NUTRITION

Mukantwali’s motivation to work in nutrition came when, as a young girl, she used to watch mothers carrying around their tiny malnourished children and decided she wanted to do something about it. It is still what drives her in her work with the pineapple processors.

Rwanda’s pineapple production has increased fourfold in the last four years, Mukantwali said. But, as with other fruit crops, a lot of the harvest spoils due to a lack of proper storage facilities and processing equipment.

Some 63 percent of pineapple processors are women, but Mukantwali says they have limited technical skills and knowledge about marketing their products.

Mukantwali has already helped small banana wine companies improve production. She noticed hygiene was one problem as the workers were using their feet to mash the bananas. She and her team taught them about pasteurisation and juice extraction and their sales doubled.

Her ambitions for pineapples are much bigger. Her dream is to see Rwandan fruit juices on shop shelves throughout east Africa – and perhaps, one day, even in Europe.

See also: 

Rwandan scientist aims to squeeze more out of pineapple sector

FACTBOX -Empowering women could save millions from hunger


(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.