Twahirwa finds the sweet side of chili in farming

In 2012, at the age of 28, he graduated as an agronomist from National University of Rwanda. It didn’t take long for the young man to get a job.
Twahirwa in his garden in Bugesera. (P. Tumwebaze)
Twahirwa in his garden in Bugesera. (P. Tumwebaze)

In 2012, at the age of 28, he graduated as an agronomist from National University of Rwanda. It didn’t take long for the young man to get a job. Twahirwa was employed by Horizon Sopyrwa, Rwanda's leading producer of refined pyrethrum. But after a few months on the job, the resident of Gashora sector in Bugesera District called it quits, and embarked on chili farming.

Twahirwa says the decision to quit his white collar job could have been the most difficult, but does not regret the move.

Few people believed in me, but that did not stop me from pursuing my dream, Twahirwa says before adding that as a young agronomist, it was important to turn the acquired knowledge into practice.

Armed with both theoretical and practical skills and experience from Sopyrwa, Twahirwa ventured into horticulture.

Starting out

Unlike many farmers, Twahirwa started from scratch. The only thing he had was his knowledge and a small piece of land. He says that he began by growing tomatoes before diversifying into other horticultural crops.

Despite the limited resources, his first harvest fetched him Rwf1.5million from one hectare piece of land.

I decided to start with tomatoes because of the high demand and they a small startup capital that I had at the time would suffice, Twahirwa says.

Besides, Twahirwa had confidence in his experience as an agronomist; “I knew what exactly it would take me to increase production on search a small piece of land.

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Twahirwa mints money from horticulture produce.

For example, I was able to embrace irrigation, placed rocks next to the plants and focused more on fertilizer application among other tricks, says the seasoned agronomist.

Twahirwa later diversified into watermelon and butternut squash growing. Fortunately, for Twahirwa, Kicukiro market was yet another motivating factor to increase production. I sold all my produce in Kicukiro market where I had ready market. This boosted my courage to increase production, Twahirwa narrates.

Land consolidation

To increase production, in 2014, Twahirwa teamed up with his old friend in Bugesera to pool more resources and invested in what had become a more competitive agricultural activity.

The two decided to consolidate and merge their pieces of land to fully take on tomato growing on a large scale.

Shifting to chili growing

However due to constant price fluctuations and stiff competition from fellow farmers, Twahirwa had no choice but to venture into a more profitable alternative.

The biggest challenge was having many farmers growing the same perishable crop at the same time which often translated into increased supply and henceforth a reduction in prices.

He says this forced him to grow a unique crop that had both local and global market.

Twahirwa made an initial investment of Rwf5million earned from tomato sale proceeds into chili farming.

The trick was to first secure the market before growing the crop on a large scale, says Twahirwa.

Fortunately Twahirwa and his friend signed a contract with an exporter who agreed to market the product outside the country.

The exporter was willing to pay the minimum price as agreed upon in the contract, Twahirwa explains adding that it was after securing a deal that he started growing chill on 4 hactares of land.

Challenges

Despite being a seasoned agronomist, Twahirwa admits that growing chill is not for the faint hearted.

Chili is not easy to grow and you are sure to encounter problems along the way including the threat from pests and diseases, says Twahirwa.

“Chili plants do well in warm, sunny places so a greenhouse or conservatory is the ideal place for them. They can also be placed outside on a sheltered spot or warm patio but acclimatize them slowly, bringing them in at night for the first week or whenever the temperature threatens to drop. Use a cane to support the plants as they grow,” Twahirwa advises.

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Twahirwa in his garden in Bugesera. (P. Tumwebaze)

According to Twahirwa, the most common pests include slugs, Aphids and red spider mites among others and other diseases that cause the crop to rot.

Drought and prolonged dry spell in Bugesera District is yet another serious challenge Twahirwa is facing.

But the passionate farmer is always armed with solutions including embracing full time irrigation during the dry spells.

His strategic plan

As part of his strategic plan to take chili farming to another level, Twahirwa has since teamed up with a British agronomist and plans to introduce other modern scientific breeds of chili into the market.

He says the strategic partnership is an important milestone towards boosting both quantity and quality along the value chain.

“It also means that I will be able to satisfy local demand and be able to tap into the global markets especially in the United Kingdom.”

Twahirwa plans to establish a chili processing plant to ensure value addition before exportation.

Productivity so far

Twahirwa says he is expecting to harvest more than 600kgs of chili every week per hectare and targets to increase it to one ton per week.

Advice to fresh graduates

The seasoned farmer says graduates should not sit back and wait for jobs but rather try and practice what they have acquired in school.

“Everyone goes to school with a dream of becoming something, however it is through innovation and trying out something new that success can be realized.”

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

 

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