Shumei Lam: MD Poultry East Africa Ltd.


Shumei Lam is the daughter of one of Singapore's most celebrated entrepreneurs, the late founder of Portek. She's inherited much of her father's pioneering business spirit, setting up a poultry business in Rwanda. African Business spoke to her about this initiative.

The whole idea of setting up a poultry business in Rwanda came from Shumei Lam's late father, Larry Lam, who was one of the first investors in Rwanda through his company Magerwa Ltd, the forerunner to Portek.

"It started from an email exchange between my father and the ex-general director of Magerwa, on how they could assist in boosting food nutrition in Rwanda, because Rwanda has very low levels of consumption of meat protein," Shumei Lam says.

She went on to explain that in Rwanda, chicken meat is typically eaten just on special occasions. That is unusual as in most parts of the world, chicken is eaten more regularly.

Following Magerwa's sale to Mitsui in 2012, Larry Lam made a conscious decision to focus on social impact projects. "He decided to try something in Rwanda's agricultural sector," Shumei says. "Initially we were looking to import animal feed, but because of the high cost of import tariffs, we decided to look at an integrated project. That gave us the idea of the poultry project."

Asked what the challenges were in establishing her business, Shumei says: "I think from day one you know there are challenges, and every day is like swimming upstream! It is a brand new idea for Rwanda people don't really understand the concept of a modern poultry farm.

"So I think we have really come a long way with the idea, but the cost of importing everything is expensive because of Rwanda's inland location. Not everything is available here, so when you're planning for a brand new set-up you have to be very, very detailed in exactly what you need, because absolutely everything has to be imported.

"But when there's nothing available here, the opportunity is there for investors such as myself to come in and make a difference in the economy and the lives of the people," Shumei adds philosophically.

That the nation is developing is in no doubt, but many businesspeople who come to the country still experience quite a strong culture shock. "You know, the concept...

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