Jean Baptiste Gasana got a rude wake-up call two years before his retirement. Though he does not say what drove him to think deeply about his retirement years, it was enough to jolt him into planning for his retirement.
The resident of Nyagisozi sector of Nyaruguru District, who was at the time working at former OCIR Café (now National Agricultural Export Board - NAEB), decided to use knowledge amassed at the firm to start a coffee growing project.
Gasana said starting the project was not easy as he even had to buy land to develop the coffee farm. He said used his savings and a bank loan to kick-start the enterprise.
He added that he used about Rwf2.5 million to buy land and Rwf7.5 million in other activities. Presently, Gasana has more than 5,000 coffee trees and a washing station. Started in 2007, two years before his retirement in 2009, he told Business Times recently that initiative has helped him to even improve the living conditions of his family “after signing out from public service”. The retiree has a big family, looking after his children and grandchildren supported by his wife who is a teacher.
Speaking in an interview, Gasana said he now employs people from the surrounding community on his farm and supports other coffee growers. The farmer now has a 2.5-hectare coffee plantation.
MPs laud effort
Gasana was speaking during a recent field visit by Members of Parliament (MPs) in the district. The visit aimed at assessing the impact of development activities in the area. MP Henriette Sebera, the leader of the delegation, hailed Gasana and urged him to continue working hard to make the initiative more sustainable and produce competitively.
“As you continue to expand the coffee plantation, you should also think of establishing a factory to process the coffee and earn more from your efforts,” she said, adding that this would also support government’s programme of promoting value addition and Made-in-Rwanda products.
Why coffee farming
Gasana said he works with financial institutions that give him loans, which he said has enabled him to buy essential agricultural inputs and tools, like cultivation and washing machines.
The farmers told Business Times that his previous job at NAEB inspired him to engage in coffee growing as he had experience of more than 10 years in the sector. He added that he also wanted to share his skills and experience with the community, and encourage others to embrace good agronomical practices as a model farmer. “Most of this area and surrounding villages are conducive for coffee growing, so I wanted the community to embrace coffee farming and benefit from my skills besides running the plantation as an income-generating activity,” he said.
He said that while working at NAEB, he realised that coffee growing has many opportunities the community could exploit to earn money and improve their livelihoods.
He said initiatives like Rwanda Cup of Excellence competition provide many training opportunities that enable farmers to improve quality of coffee.
He added that the competition also inspired him to start coffee growing “so I decided to start a coffee growing project to participate in the competition which I believe will make coffee competitive”.
“Growing coffee requires hard work and, for my case, after buying the land and planting seedlings, I made sure to monitor daily to ensure proper growth,” he said.
Gasana said coffee growing requires patience as it takes three years to get the first harvest. He said it is important for farmers to embrace value-addition.
“I have struggled to ensure that I start a coffee washing station because this is essential to increase the quality of the beans to ensure that I get good prices,” he said.
He said that he now produces between four and five tonnes of fully-washed coffee, which is sold at Rwf1,800 per kilogramme compared to Rwf900 a kilo red coffee cherries. He said he earned over Rwf9 million from five tonnes of washed coffee last season, which he would not have got if the coffee was not fully-washed.
“Using fertilisers helped me to increase quantity and quality of production for unwashed and washed coffee as well as earning increased income,” he added.
He advised farmers to follow recommended agronomical practices as well as use fertilisers and spray insecticides to be assured of better harvests.
“The government helps us get fertilisers through ‘Nkunganire’ programme. Presently, I harvest between two and three tonnes of coffee. One kilogramme is sold at Rwf1,800, so I earn about Rwf4.4 million in one harvesting season,” he explained.
Advice to retirees
According to Gasana, people planning to retire or who have already retired but do not have an income-generating activity should move out of their comfort zone and embrace entrepreneurship. He said it important to think big, adding that one can start a small enterprise as per their finances and earn some little money to help make their twilight years more comfortable.
“Retirees should use their pension benefits to start income-generating activities. Besides, we have skills that are still essential in our communities. So, there is no reason for us to lay back waiting for the little pension money, but move out of our way to continue being productive and live meaningfully in retirement,” he said.