As a young boy, he used to accompany his parents when they went to work in the family gardens. As a result, Frank Ntabana developed a passion for farming. Today, Ntabana is a prominent farmer in Rwanda and produces over four tonnes of mangoes and 29 tonnes of beans each season. He shared his experience and how he has managed to pursue his passion and make it as a successful farmer with Business Times’ Gertrude Majyambere:
Most Rwandans do not see agriculture as something one can do to sustain and improve their livelihood, what inspired you to venture into commercial agriculture?
As a young boy in the early 1960s, I used to go with my parents to work in the family gardens; it’s from that routine that I developed the love for farming. I was also inspired by Ugandans as they are hardworking people. However, I did not have an opportunity to explore my passion until I came to Rwanda in the 1990s.
After the liberation war, the talk then evolved around development. I realised then that time was ripe for me to live my childhood dream and contribute to the national development effort.
I used my land in the Eastern Province, where I was carrying out livestock farming, to start crop farming. I set aside 10 hectares of the land for mango growing, and with guidance from the National Agriculture Export Development Board (NAEB); I kicked off the project.
What Rwandans should always remember is that anything one does can help them improve their livelihood, especially if they invest a lot of efforts in the project.
Challenges during the early stages of the project
I love challenges, and this helped me to start the business with a lot of enthusiasm. Also as a retired soldier, I was guided by the core values like respect of time and discipline. In the army, we value time, so, I never want to waste any minute doing something that doesn’t add value to my life and society.
I do everything with zeal and ensure that all my projects are done well. You know soldiers cannot easily give up on something, all these values helped me forge ahead and remain focused despite the challenges.
Besides, I always look to turning challenges into something beneficial and also work hard because I fear to fail. However, during the first harvest in December 2013, we encountered some problems at the farm. For instance, I did not know how to harvest the mangoes without damaging the fruit and this affected my harvest.
The good thing was that the harvest came at the right time as predicted by NAEB.
The milestones the business has hit so far
The major achievement is that I am enjoying double benefit, harvesting four tonnes of mangoes, as well as 29 tonnes of other crops like beans, soya every season.
The spacing is about eight metres between each mango tree, thus I decided to intercrop with seasonal crops. Though I wasn’t sure it would it was a good idea at the beginning, I am happy I took the risk because I am reaping the benefits thanks to high yields and income.
Where do you see the business in five years?
The future is bright for horticulture and export sector in general, but the government should put in more efforts and encourage people to invest in commercial farming to boost exports and foreign exchange returns. There is a lot of idle land in the Eastern Province that could be made productive by farming enterprises. This will create jobs and support the country’s growth agenda under the second phase of the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS II).
The government should also train private sector players because many of us are pioneers in this business and lack skills. I had to bring someone from Uganda to teach my workers about harvesting without spoiling the crop. The government should also provide subsidised pesticides for start-up farmers, and always monitor young entrepreneurs.
Ntabana says he grows four varieties of mangoes; Kent, Zeilet, apple mango and Tommy at the farm in Nyagatare District. He employs five full-time workers and hires between 20 and 30 temporary workers during the ploughing, planting and harvesting periods.
“I supply about 500kg of mangoes to Bourbon Coffee Cafe and FruLeb Supermarket at Rwf1,400 each kilogramme. There is a lot of demand for mangoes because people’s purchasing power is growing as more families have now made fruits part of the daily menu,” he points out.
Advice to those who resort to farming after failing in other ventures
In business do not do something because someone else did the same and it worked out. Do it because you love it and do it wholeheartedly. And with the food industry, you cannot go wrong because people will always want to eat, and eat healthy.