By the time Innocent Bisanana completed high school, he had a vision that drove his ambition to become self-reliant. Unlike most high school leavers, the youth did not limit go around searching for jobs in big companies: Bisanana wanted to be self-employed as part of his vision toward financial independence.
Though he did not have money to join university after completing Senior Six in 2011, this never affected his resolve to become self-employed. Using knowledge from his computer science class, the 27-year-old started a venture to provide internet services in his village of Amizero in Rilima sector in Bugesera District. This is how Cyber Café, the first internet service provider in the area, started. However, after years in the business, Bisanana realised that the business was not as beneficial as he had envisaged. This started his journey into modern and commercial-oriented farming, where he grows horticulture crops like tomatoes and fruits all-year-round using simple irrigation techniques.
With the internet café enterprise struggling, Bisanana decided to start growing fruits and vegetables on his two-hectare piece of land near Lake Kidogo in Rilima.
“I tried to look beyond challenges faced by young people and school dropouts. My vision was to start my own project,” he says.
Bisanana realised that using his small piece of land could help him to achieve his goal. So, he presented his project proposal to Rilima sector officials to help him access inputs that Rwanda Agriculture Board gives young farmers. After securing the inputs, including passion fruit and vegetable seeds, he bought an engine to pump water from Lake Kidogo to his land. With all this in place, he cleared the land and planted horticulture crops like watermelons, onions and tomatoes targeting the local market.
“I had studied the market and discovered that it wasn’t fully exploited. In fact, one cannot go wrong with farming since everyone eats food,” he narrates.
He adds: “I also knew that, with agriculture, my family would not lack anything. The project would also provide me a sustainable source of income and hence help me fulfill my goal of becoming financially secure.”
Later, Bisanana expanded the business and started growing other crops like beans, avocados, maize and passion fruits to safeguard his income streams since these crops are harvested at different times. “I divided the land into two parts; the part that borders the lake is where I practice crop irrigation, while I use the other portion that is far off from the lake for crops like beans and maize that ‘do not need’ irrigation.
Bisanana has since expanded the project to six hectares, where he carries out farming activities throughout the year. “I don’t worry about drought like most farmers in the district since I have unlimited access to the lake.”
The farmer employs five permanent workers to help him with farm work. During land preparation or planting and harvest seasons, he hires temporary workers, especially youth, depending on the amount of work. “The business has benefited me and my family, as well as the community including jobless young people,” he adds.
Bisanana says he has been able to achieve a lot in a short period of time through hard work and commitment to the project.
“Though there are many people around the lake, few think of its importance to the agriculture sector. Therefore, there is need for continuous sensitisation so that farmers near the lake can embrace irrigation. This will assure sustainable food production, improve household income and create more jobs.”
The farmer supplies vendors in Kimironko and Got It Company in Kigali buys his fruits and vegetables.
The main challenges Bisanana faces include pests and diseases which affect the produce as well as the delay of getting fertilisers provided by Rwanda Agriculture Board. “In addition, RAB provides fertilisers during the normal seasons, but does not cater for farmers like me who engage in farming during off seasons. This makes it costly for us and affects productivity.” Lack of timely market information also affects farmer competitiveness and access to better markets.
The farmer has bought a motorbike worth Rwf1.6 million. He uses it for his daily work; he renovated and expanded his houses, as well as improving his family’s welfare. Currently, the farmer earns at least Rwf1.8 million from the business. He kick-started the project with Rwf800,000.
“The business has made me self–reliant and improved my family’s living standards,” he says.
Bisanana produced four tonnes of beans and maize during season A, while watermelons yielded five tonnes, and the harvest for onions was 600 kilogrammes. The farmer’s target is to continue expanding the project and wants to diversify into fish farming in the near future.
Bisanana says that commercial farming is beneficial if one is committed and works hard. He urges young people to learn from established farmers, especially proper agronomical practices and agribusiness management.
He says it doesn’t matter whether one studied agriculture, noting that there is a lot of information on the internet that young farmers can use to improve their knowledge and skills. He always conducts research on the internet to acquire more knowledge on how to grow different types of crops.
Bisanana advises young farmers to do research before starting any project and also learn from other sector players and experts.
“My message to the youth is that they should not focus on white collar jobs, but should be open-minded and look for opportunities in all fields despite their area of specialisation,” he says.
He adds that though he started in an area (computer science) where he had expertise, farming has proved to be the future for him. It is good to study any subject and gain knowledge, but your chances to a better life might be found in different sectors that are not related to your academic qualifications, he notes.
What others say about him
Pierre Habimana, an employee, says that working with Bisanana has enabled him to learn new farming techniques beside the financial gains.
“I started working at the project six months ago and, since then I have been able to subscribe for health insurance, as well as pay my school fees for my six children without any problem. I have also bought a cow and bicycle,” Habimana says.