In 1994, one of the greatest tragedies in African history occurred in Rwanda. The genocidal mass slaughter of Tutsi in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority government killed an estimated 500,000–1,000,000 Rwandans.
Till today, Human Skulls still line tables at memorial centers and a weeklong national public holiday is declared yearly to remind people about the carnage that took place that year.
On television and in the pages in newspapers, many stories have been told about this terrible tragedy and its effects on the lives of young Rwandans who were too innocent to have deserved to witness all that horror.
This story is about a young woman who witnessed that horror and her courage to change the world.
Biotechnology is the use of living systems and organisms to develop or make products, or “any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use”
In recent times, you must have heard about climate change and global warming, in order to sustain our human environment, an alternative has to be implemented and Bio technology is this alternative. Biotechnology hinges on ensuring that our environment and our world is safe.
Clarisse Uwineza was born in Kigali into a family of six children. She is the second child, after the Genocide of Tutsis in 1994, she lost her parents.
Clarisse was only eight years old when she became orphan. She had to continue her studies and this was when she realized that she had to be hard-working, ambitious and put effort in everything she was doing.
She said “As I was succeeding in my classes specially in science courses like Chemistry, Mathematics and Physics, this grew my passion to learn and that is how I found myself in Science (Bio-Chemisty).
“In 2012 I got my bachelor degree in Environmental Chemistry and because my country is developing, it is not easy to get Job.
“Since 2014 after passed all those challenges, I was not discouraged, I wanted to have an impact in society where I am and I saw myself as the one who can bring a solution to the society.
“After losing jobs I decided to get into entrepreneurship. It was not easy but I had an idea since 2012 and I decided to bring that solution into reality because the society need it!
“In my dissertation at the university, I worked on waste status in Rwanda and from that I developed a solution of converting Bio-Organic waste into Bio- Organic fertilizer and from there I created a company called Environmental Protection and Organics.”
Environmental Protection and Organics
“I didn’t only focus on this idea in order to find seed capital. I work with some NGOs here in Rwanda on community mobilization about environmental protection through waste management (collecting and sporting at source and household composting), tree planting mostly agroforest and fruit trees based on climate change mitigation.
“After this I started looking for funds from all over the world because all I think about is my project and how I can fully implement it.
“In 2015 I got an opportunity where I had been selected among 1000 Entrepreneurs who have potential project that can transform Africa by Tony Elumelu Foundation.
“In 2016 because of my project I was selected among 30 GIST Tech- I finalists. This has motivated me and give the courage to bring my project at the higher level.
“The overpopulation and limited land available leads to soil degradation and this is the big challenge in my country and many countries of Africa.
“Farmers nowadays are using chemical fertilizers which are harmful to the soil in long run and even to people who consume food from this soil.
“There is also a challenges of waste management, Greenhouse gases from landfills and ground water and air pollution from waste.
“My project is the solution of these challenges.
“We convert Bio-Organic Waste (waste from household, animals and agricultural waste) through reductive thermal processing where Biomass (waste) are heated at elevated temperature in low oxygen environment using our locally made reactor and then we fortify our product to reinforce the efficiency.
“Chemical fertilizers are very toxic and they damage our soil and even our health even though their uses gives higher productivity.”
It is estimated that every year the world loses roughly 24 billion tonnes of fertile soil, with chemical fertilisers singled out as one of the main culprits.
The effects of chemical-synthetic fertilizers include decomposition of humus soil, loss of biodiversity, soil acidification and nitrous oxide emissions, which are a burden for the environment and accelerate climate change.
Clarisse’s project is about safeguarding our soil and the farm products we consume. The Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme and the GIST Tech- I recognition encouraged Clarisse to do more with her project. The impact has been amazing.
For a young girl who bridged the gap of unemployment and living as an orphan to start something innovative in her community, impact is the true recognition of a job well done.
According to Clarisse, “In Rwanda 80% of population are engaged in agriculture and among them 52% are women. As the big number of farmers are women and mostly heads of families this kind of fertilizer will have a great impact on all farmers especially women in order to improve their soil fertility as well as increase the production while enhancing food security and health on their families.
“Nowadays we are working on our pilot and some scientific research but more than 30% of farmers are currently interested on our product.
“Our purpose is not replacing chemical fertilizers but is support as now most farmers use to mix chemicals with manure/or compost but those are hard to find but we are making them available in order to improve soil fertility.”
One.org estimates that Sub-Saharan Africa faces some of the biggest challenges: only 68% of individuals living in the region have access to an improved water source and only 30% of individuals have access to improved sanitation services; nearly half of all people using unimproved sources live in Sub-Saharan Africa.
African Women and the Environment
In Africa, woman are always expected to spearhead initiatives that secure our environment because it’s a woman’s job to keep her environment clean and safe for her families. Our ancestors were very keen on their simple practices to keep the environment clean.
Today, it’s our duty to ensure that our environment is safer. Clarisse said “African women are strong and as leaders and we can we be part of the change we want for the environment.
“For me thinking about how African women we take care of our babies since their birth till the end of their life and as environment include life, people, animals, crops, forest, air, water and wild life, why can’t we take care of these things too.
“Through empowerment and encouragement, we can do more to protect and improve our environment.
“We have ideas and good ideas, but we need is to be open and to be active, yes the waste disposal is still a big challenge in most urban areas but though using our knowledge and taking this issue as ours and working together we can be a solution for that and contribute to the environment.”
As young African women, we all face challenges, in our daily lives irrespective of where we come from or which tribe we belong to or how rich our parents are.
On overcoming challenges, Clarisse said “I have faced so many challenges, the first one is to find seed capital for starting and implement my project and I cannot say that I have overcome that challenge I am still trying my best so that my project can be fully implemented.
“The second one is to find a great team that we can work together most people are looking for money and this is a big challenge and from that I have set some regulations and agreements. I am looking for passionate people who are willing to have an impact and to be a solution to the society.
“The major challenge I face as a woman is the problem of inferiority, to think that I can’t do something meaningful to the society. In my country now, women have and play a big role in the development and our President Paul Kagame always encourage women to get into entrepreneurship.
“I have got the strength and from the story of other big female entrepreneurs like Oprah Winfrey, now I am strong enough and ready to overcome any challenges!”
What motivates us to dare in spite of what the world tells us, Clarisse insists that living as an orphan and the impact her project will make in the lives of people have always motivated her.
“My project, organic fertilizer and the technology are my motivation to help and to support not only farmers but also most of women or girls that are facing problems of life including poverty.
“My product will support millions of farmers and this really motivates me because it can help not only farmers from my country Rwanda but also all African farmers thinking about scalability and partnership.
“The technology because it highly advanced different from compositing and this can not only give me Fertilizer but also other products in from of energy (gases and oil) and this will help me to improve and to have a great impact in society,” Clarrise said.
Her advice to millions of other young girls in Africa is simple, “Dare because whoever dares wins.”