When many university students complete their studies, one of their biggest preoccupations is how to land government or corporate jobs. For many, getting white collar jobs is the only alternative after campus.
However, for Evangeline Mukazigama, a graduate of accounting from Kigali Independent University (ULK), job-seeking was out of the equation, thanks to her passion for farming and entrepreneurship. Though the move surprised many, for her it was a natural choice having raised all her university tuition fees from farming activities.
“For me the thought of job-seeking was like a huge burden I couldn’t bear,” says the 30-year-old resident of Rurenge, Remera sector in Gatsibo District, Eastern Province.
So I decided to apply the knowledge gained from university to carry out my own income-generating activities to make more money, Mukazigama adds.
Having worked out the maths, Mukazigama started up a red chilli and tree tomato (ibinyomoro) growing project using about an hectare of family land in 2016. The two crops are intercropped, meaning she can fully maximise land utilisation and production on the land.
While still at university, Mukazigama’s farming activities were on two hectares and for home consumption and sell.
Back then, she mother was in charge of the project and she would always tend to the venture on weekends and during school vacation.
“So, when I graduated from university, it was only natural that I would concentrate on farming as a business. I decided to grow chillies and tree tomatoes because there is still a huge market for the two crops,” she explains.
Mukazigama says she cannot exchange agribusiness for any other job.
“I am so passionate about farming that no other job would give me the satisfaction I get from it. I am contented…Besides, my income is steadily increasing and there are still a lot of opportunities to be exploited in the sector, including agro-processing,” she says.
She adds that she can’t imagine herself working for others.
“I love working the land and seeing the handiwork of my toiling,” she says while munching on a tamarillo as we tour her project.
Mukazigama sells some of her chillies and fruits to wholesale buyers while others are ferried to Rwagitima Market on Wednesdays. The weekly market is the biggest for produce and other products and general merchandise in Gatsibo District.
Today, she earns a minimum of Rwf300,000 net profit per month and expects to bag more than Rwf400,000 monthly this season. Most of the chilli is sold to Urwibutso Enterprise, commonly known as Nyirangarama.
A few months after Mukazigama kicked-started her project in 2016, the Eastern Province was hit by a prolonged dry spell. This was a big challenge for the young entrepreneur, but she soldiered on.
She was able to get some small harvest, thanks to irrigation.
She says she used some of her savings to buy containers and hire casual labourers to ferry water from Lake Muhazi to irrigate the crops using small irrigation equipment and basins.
“I was worried about tree tomato plants because they’re sensitive to sunshine. If they don’t get enough water, they can take long to mature and bear fruits,” she explains.
The enterprising farmer says the plants needed about 300 jerry cans of water every other day to flourish. A jerry can of water cost Rwf200, meaning she needed Rwf60,000 every so often or nearly Rwf1 million a month.
“At this point, I did not have enough money to meet such costs, but for my commitment the workers were convinced and accepted that I pay their wages after the harvest,” she says.
However, the chilli harvest was poor and she did not get any profits and the tree tomatoes brought in just some slim earnings
“I felt so challenged and it dawned on me that if I had to continue in this business and maximise profits, I had to secure a constant supply of water,” she says.
Mukazigama built an underground dam and harvested water the following rain season, a move that ensured a steady supply of water for her project. According to national statistics, only six per cent of rain water is harvested.
Mukazigama is planning to buy a pickup truck to transport her produce. She also wants to diversify into livestock production with dairy farming and goat rearing.
This way, Mukazigama hopes to cut costs as she currently buys most of the manure she uses in her from neighbours.
“I’m planning to buy some hybrid dairy cows for milk but also for manure as part of my expansion strategy that will help me maximise productivity,” she says.
Mukazigama believes that anyone can succeed if they are determined, hardworking and ready to follow their passion.
Mukazigama advises young people to be innovative and embrace entrepreneurship, saying that the sector has immense opportunities that they can exploit to build a better future for themselves and also contribute to national development. She adds that one should never underestimate themselves in whatever they are doing.