When he graduated with a civil engineering degree 27 years ago, Sam Rubagumya had big dreams as any other young graduate. However, he was he met by a rough world after graduation, especially as he had to fend for his young family. This forced him to turn to small-scale farming to ensure his family had enough food to eat. This small strategy has resulted into a huge farming enterprise today. He told Business Times’ Peterson Tumwebaze how he made it.
Twenty-seven years ago, Sam Rubagumya, a resident of Matimba Nyagatare, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. This was every parent’s dream at the time as it meant a good job and better income for the family.
However, while everyone celebrated the achievement, the Kyambogo University graduate had different plans. “I had this ambitious plan to start commercial farming,” says the 55-year-old Rubagumya.
Having started a family at an early age, Rubagumya had always struggled to provide for his family. So, he could engage in farming on his three-acre piece of land every time he was not at school to ensure the family had enough to eat.
“I was concerned about my family, so I had to compliment my pen in class with the hoe,” he narrates.
How he started
Rubagumya, like any other fresh graduate looked forward to a bright future. He, however, knew that engineering was not going to feature prominently in his plans.
“At that time fresh graduates had to work for established companies, but your job depended on whether your company won contracts or not,” he explains. This created uncertainty in one’s income. As a family man, I had to rethink my position very fast.” As a result, Rubagumya spent more time on his farm than on construction sites.
“I was determined to make the impossible possible.
“I started by growing maize and a few other food crops on my three-acre piece of land, and also started a produce buying business. This helped me save and buy more land, which enabled me to switch to commercial agriculture,” he narrates.
Overtime, Rubagumya expanded his land to 10 acres, then 100 acres and, currently, his project sits on a 150-acre estate.
“The exciting moment for me was when I harvested about 15 tonnes of maize…I was ready to hit the road,” Rubagumya says.
He adds that he started growing maize and soybeans on a large scale. With time, I expanded the project from three acres to about 100 acres by 2003, which greatly increased output.
As Rubagumya was beginning to walk in the path of commercial agriculture, disaster struck and he lost about 20 hectares of maize to floods in 2003.
“This paralysed the project that it almost collapsed,” he says.
Memories of 2003 floods would later haunt him again, when he lost an entire maize garden to another round floods in 2008. But he was never the one to give in so easily, especially after testing some success.
“There is a saying in engineering, that destruction is part of construction”. This kept me focused on my goal and, since then, I have never looked back,” he notes.
Floods have been the worst challenge the flamboyant farmer has had to deal with all his farming time.
“Unlike during the dry season, when I use irrigation, with floods, there is little farmers can do,” Rubagumya says.
According to Rubagumya, farming, like any other business, is tricky, especially when one is producing on commercial scale.
“This means you have to invest in the right technology, fertilisers and labour force. Unfortunately, all these are not easy to find and are costly, which affects your profits if not balanced well,” he points out.
Rubagumya notes that post harvest losses due to poor storage facilities can be a disturbing realty.
“We are talking of losing 10 bags in every 100 bags of, say maize, harvested,” he notes. He adds that fluctuating produce prices are also a major challenge farmers face, saying they have no powers over farm-gate prices.
Farmers say that one should never measure their success by the harvests they get, but by the seeds one planted. So does Rubagumya who, despite the enormous challenges, has engineered his way through farming to become one of the biggest producers of maize in East Africa.
Rubagumya grows mainly maize, soybeans and vegetables, from which he harvests over 750 tonnes of maize and soybean every season.
He earns about Rwf10m profits on average per month.
The farming engineer has since bought three farm tractors, a lorry and two personal cars and built two commercial buildings in Nyagatare town and Kigali.
He also put up two decent homes, acquired 20 exotic cattle and constructed a small animal feed processing plant in Rubirizi.
For his efforts, the Ministry of Agriculture offered him an irrigation system.
His 27 years’ dedication to farming have also seen the model farmer win big food supply tenders from UN agency, the World Food Programme.
“Through the World Food Programme, my produce is now reaching all corners of the globe,” he says proudly.
Rubagumya has been enriching his farming knowledge and skills and has numerous certificates for farming courses he has attended.
He employs about 70 workers, including researchers.
He urges farmers to think like businessmen. “Think commercial and concentrate on how to increase productivity regardless of the farm size,” he counsels. Rubagumya says it’s important for agriculture graduates to help rural farmers improve productivity of their land through new agriculture innovations.
“There are many farmers who still don’t understand the concept of commercial farming and, yet many Rwandans graduate with agriculture degrees every year,” he notes. He says it is important for farmers to rotate cereals with legumes to maintain soil fertility, noting that this keeps the soils fertile.
The renowned farmer wants to compliment his farming by setting up agro-processing factories.
Dealing with stress
“Every thing on my farm follows a well designed programme; right from the planting time to when the produce goes to the market. Every employee knows his role and I ensure that there are no overlaps. This streamlines all farm activities, which helps avoid stress,” he says, adding that one should ensure they balance farm activities and spare time to socialise.
Rubagumya finds inspiration in President Paul Kagame’s words of wisdom. He is also inspired by Uganda’s renowned entrepreneur and farmer, the late James Mulwana.