Trio seeks to make fortune from watermelons

When three young university graduates joined labour market, like thousands before them, the job hunt was not as kind to them.

Each of them started with professional internship in various institutions and later they turned to casual work for survival as the chances of formal jobs seemed limited.

And it is from this that they collected about Rwf1.5 million savings as startup capital for a pepper growing venture in February 2019 and later switched to watermelon where they are already reaping big.

Each of them contributed approximately Rwf500, 000 to launch the agribusiness.

They established a youth-led Agribusiness Company dubbed “Iwacu Modern Farm” in February 2019.

In the first phase of harvesting, they sold 5 tonnes of watermelons worth about Rwf1.4 million. Courtesy photos.

The three are; Gloria Mutuzo, young Agronomist and Marketing Manager at the company who graduated from Jomo Kenyatta University in agribusiness in 2019, Muvunyi Abdlaman, the Project Manager of Iwacu Modern Farm who graduated from ICT in IPRC in 2017 as well as Parfait Kalisa, the sales manager who graduated from the College of Business and Economics at University of Rwanda of Rwanda.

Muvunyi Abdlaman, the Project Manager at the Company told Business Times that it became easier for the trio to launch the business since they were already acquainted.

“We decided to start something that will keep connecting us and developing us at the same time. I shared the agribusiness idea with Parfait and he accepted to join me and implement it. And then Gloria who was still at school joined us later since she had studied agribusiness at University,” he said.

They starting growing Chili in Bugesera District in Mwogo sector, a distance that would seem them trek about two hours daily.

Unfortunately, farming Chili wasn’t successful due to water challenges in that area among other challenges.

Abdlaman Muvunyi, the Project Manager, and  Gloria Mutuzo, Agronomist and Marketing Manager at the Iwacu Modern Farm company on the farm during harvest.

“At the beginning of business to grow Chili in February last year, we faced challenges. These include scarcity of water to irrigate as it is an area usually affected by prolonged drought,” he explained.

Another challenge is that when heavy rains would befall and the flooding from Nyabarongo River could destroy their pepper crop.

Shifting to watermelon farming

The challenges that led them to count losses, he said, forced them into watermelon farming after learning about the high demand of the crop in Rwanda and beyond.

Watermelon which was previously not common among many farmers in Rwanda is a large fruit of the gourd family, with smooth green skin, red pulp, and watery juice.

They contracted an agronomist who advised them to first carry out a soil test on the farm before embarking on the actual planting.

After the soil test, it was discovered it had an accumulated amount of acidity which they neutralised with agricultural lime.

“One of our members, Gloria, who had studied agribusiness had good knowledge about growing watermelon, the needed investment, its role and how marketable it was. It takes only three months for watermelon to grow,”

“That is why we shifted from Bugesera District to Mwurire sector in Rwamagana District where we invested Rwf1 million in farming watermelon,” he said.

They shifted to watermelon, since the tillable land is also located nearby the dam used in irrigation

Mutuzo during the harvest.She graduated from Jomo Kenyatta University in Agribusiness in 2019.

The trio planted watermelon on half of one hectare in the middle of September and employed 100 casual workers in preparing the land and planting and there are five permanent employees most of whom are women and youth.

“We are the first to watermelon in the area since local farmers were not familiar with it and now other farmers have also embraced it after inspiring them,” he said.

Good harvest

The company’s manager said that by December 31st they were already harvesting after three months having planted.

Harvesting is divided into three rounds.

“In the first round of harvesting, we harvested watermelon the whole day and sold 5 tonnes of watermelons worth about Rwf1.4 million.   So far we have completed two rounds of harvesting and selling watermelon worth over Rwf2 million,” he said.

There remains another round for harvesting, he said.

“The last harvest is scheduled this week,” he said adding that considering an investment of Rwf1 million, there is no doubt that there will be good profit despite the big journey ahead.

They sell one big watermelon at Rwf1, 500 on average.

Exports and value  addition goals

Muvunyi said that the goal is towards exporting fruits and processing watermelon into juice.

“We are going to expand our farming to 3 hectares. Two hectares for watermelon and one hectare to try Chili farming. And as we increase production, we will start exporting watermelon and Chili while also investing in value addition such as producing juice from watermelon,” he said.

Other local farmers were inspired and are not growing watermelon on three hectares after realizing how it is profitable, he witnessed.

With increased crop cover, he said, accessing export market and launching a processing plant will follow suit.

Efforts of youth in agribusiness could help to increase exports of fruits and vegetables from Rwanda and invest in post-harvest handling.

Between July and November 2019 fruit volumes totaling 4,513 tonnes were exported raking in over $3.7 million in the first five months of the ongoing financial year, while 4,282 tonnes were exported during the same period of the previous year.

This is according to latest statistics from the National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB) which were announced last week on Wednesday.

“We have a high demand of watermelon,” Muvunyi said adding that they want to tap into export market.

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