A version of this story originally appeared on Land O'Lakes International Development's website, and is reprinted with permission here. 

In 1994, a stable political environment motivated Samuel Ndoli to move his family back to Rwanda. “We had no security in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but I could see hope in Rwanda and a brighter future,” says Samuel.

Twenty-two years later, it’s still difficult for Samuel to talk about his life in Congo; because he lost his job and property. He left most of those memories beyond the border.  However, two important things have stayed with him: the love of his family, and passion for dairy.

In the office of Fromagerie la reine, Samuel leans back in his chair and proudly smiles at his 26-year-old daughter, Angelique, as she cuts into the wax casing of a recently matured gouda cheese block. Dressed in a white lab coat, plastic gloves, big rain boots and a face mask – between this and the creamer machine roaring in the background, it’s difficult to hear her as she points to the gouda, “See those three small holes in the center of the cheese? The less of these, the better the cheese. Three years ago, we saw a lot of holes.”

After completing business school in 2012, Angelique returned to her family’s home to work alongside her father. At the time, Samuel was processing only gouda cheese. His business struggled to secure more than 2 reliable buyers due to product quality inconsistency. He lacked several quality necessities, including the right processing equipment, quality testing kits and training. 

See those three small holes in the center of the cheese? The less of these, the better the cheese. Three years ago, we saw a lot of holes.
— Angelique Ndoli, Fromagerie la reine

In the same year, Samuel received a training on how to improve the quality of his products from the U.S. Agency for International Development-funded Rwanda Dairy Competitiveness Program II (RDCP II), implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development. He shared what he learned with Angelique and his other staff, and together they integrated these practices into their business. RDCP II also provided a pasteurizer, butter churn, stainless tables and milk testing kits to help improve processing capacity for Fromagerie la reine. Now, Fromagerie la reine can take in up to 1,000 liters a day. From processing gouda alone, Samuel currently makes cheddar, mozzarella, yogurt, cream, butter and fermented milk.

After entering five products at the 2014, 2015 and 2016 Cheese and Butter Expo and competition sponsored by RDCP II, Fromagerie la reine now has 12 reliable buyers, including hotels, restaurants and super markets in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. Samuel also markets some of his products in DRC and Burundi.

With these new expansion opportunities, Samuel continues to believe that Rwanda can provide a bright future for his family and business. “My hope is that eventually Angelique will take over the business. With her degree along with the support we received from Land O’Lakes, she will be able to take it to the next level,” he says. 

Fromagerie la reine is just one of the many cheese processors that RDCP II has supported with training and small business grants. These initiatives not only support individual processors, but also dairy cooperatives and over 27, 500 smallholder farmers who supply milk to the processors every day. Fromagerie la reine alone provides an income to 120 local farmers.