When I graduated with an Engineer degree in Chemistry and Agricultural Industries, I worked as an Assistant Lecturer at an Institution of Higher Education in Walungu in DR Congo. Later I got a job as Technical Secretary in a government institution in charge of tax collection. Despite the good paying job, my former classmates who had moved on to pursue further studies never got tired telling me that I should not become a tax collector but rather must focus on what was my passion and purpose of my studies in agriculture.
In 2017, I decided to follow my heart. I resigned from my work and came to Uganda for a Masters Degree in Food Science and Technology at the prestigious Makerere University. The money I had was only enough to travel, find accommodation and secure admission. My survival on decimal aid. I drew confidence from what my former classmates used to tell me that at Makerere University, students from my former university paid like local students because of the RUFORUM MOU, and that hardworking students could not fail to get a scholarship. I then strategized by 1) seeking for a recommendation letter from my former University to benefit from a tuition reduction, and 2) working extra hard.
Six months later, I was shortlisted for a RUFORUM scholarship under a CARP+ project led by Prof. Johnny Mugisha. The Dean of the School of Food Science who interviewed me revealed to me that my name was given to him by several Professors based on my academic performance. Eventually, I got the scholarship covering tuition, stipend, research costs, books and medical assurance. What a great relief! The scholarship enabled me to travel to other universities in Africa and attend conferences, a dream come true. I vividly recall the 2018 RUFORUM Biennial conference in Nairobi where I got the opportunity to meet other young African scientists with whom we started networking. I also remember spending about two weeks at Jomo Kenyatta University to carry out lab analysis that was not available at Makerere.
However, I had one big challenge. Coming from a French speaking country, my English language was in pieces. With support of my supervisor, Dr. Abel Atukwase, and my colleagues in and outside Uganda, I was able to improve my English language literacy. I was able to complete successfully with a CGPA of 4.23 and an outstanding thesis defence. It still rings sweet in my ears how the Dean of the School posted on CARP+ Project WhatsApp informing the CARP+ PI that, “Congs to Napoleon. He passed the Viva Voce with flying colours”.
I later got the RUFORUM Field Attachment Program Award (FAPA) that allowed me to start an agribusiness venture (MakPot) in Uganda together with other fellow students under the same CARP+ project of Prof. Mugisha. The business is processing potato, sweet potato and sorghum into cookies, waffles and biscuit and very soon, we shall diversify our products by adding neglected vegetables in our formulation.
No regrets: I resigned from my former work in DRC to return to campus and focus on my passion (food and agriculture). I came without funding for either survival or studies but the RUFORUM scholarship did it all, and today I am starting my own agri-business as a result of my MSc Degree of Makerere University.
My target is to make my business grow and expand to my home country DR Congo and the entire East Africa. My expansion plan includes training young entrepreneurs in postharvest technologies and product commercialization. I am also seeking for a PhD opportunity to improve my knowledge in food technology and food product development to enable me to serve my continent better. I am confident that all these can be achieved with the support of RUFORUM once again and the Alumni network.