When it was time to fill in forms and specify their preferred future courses for upper secondary, Jean-Claude Uzabakiriho did not have to think twice, since the only option he could see was his childhood dream, forestry.
Uzabakiriho is currently a student at Integrated Polytechnic Regional Centre (IPRC) Kitabi, Nyamagabe District, where he is pursuing forestry studies.
Last month, he took home Rwf5m after winning the ‘2019 TVET Youth Challenge’, where he presented his project of multiplying ‘eucalyptus grandis’ variety using cutting method.
His raw materials are fresh branches of a mother tree, and using “quality” honey and hot water helps the branch in the soil sprout roots and start to grow.
“I thought about this project when I found out that many eucalyptus varieties are attacked by different diseases but also most of those in Rwanda take a long time to mature. I decided to act after taking time to speak with residents, who also told me about this problem,” he said.
Uzabakiriho says that he was determined to find a way to multiply a variety of eucalyptus grandis, although he was later to discover that this task would not be easy since the seeds are costly. For instance, seeds from South Africa cost Rwf8m because they are improved.
At maturity, the eucalyptus grandis reaches 50 metres tall, and according to Uzabakiriho, though there are 75 eucalyptus varieties present in the country, most of them are not “pure”.
“These varieties look contaminated; it is hard to tell one eucalyptus from another. Most of them are not pure because of ‘cross pollination’, and this makes it complicated because you cannot tell whether or not the variety you are going to plant will not be attacked by pests,” he explained.
He points out that there are many benefits one can derive from planting an improved tree especially because it takes less than 10 years before it is ready to be harvested and purity is guaranteed.
Uzabakiriho says forests are generally a national issue, and he hopes to make his contribution in increasing them, and their quality.
Born and raised in Muhanga district, Uzabakiriho is now based in Nyamagabe where he says is a good location for anyone in his line of work.
Like any competition, Uzabakiriho says that he put in his entry to try his luck. He recalls how his dream to pursue studies in forestry were laughed at by his age mates, adding that this even fuelled his resolve more.
“My classmates laughed at me and asked why out of all courses I had picked forestry which they felt was not marketable. I only told them that I am a friend of the environment,” he says.
Giving emphasis to his name ‘friend of environment’, Uzabakiriho is ditching using plastic seedlings bags, choosing biodegradable bags made from banana leaves.
“For years, Rwanda has fought against plastic bags because they are harmful to environment; we tree growers as environmentalists, why should we keep using plastic bags? After all, the banana leaves are cheaper,” he said.
His nursery is still small because it had been working as an experiment site, which he plans to expand so that he can produce and distribute a larger number of seedlings.
Uzabakiriho beat 20 contestants to become the winner at his school, before he went on to win the national challenge that had 42 contenders.
“Winning an award is not what really matters to me; but having studied something in school, trying it in real life and seeing it work is the most significant part,” he insisted.
He said he had been thinking of this project when he was still in secondary school, and with the money he recently won, he plans to strengthen his project when he completes his higher education this year.
Asked what he thinks about forest cutting, Uzabakiriho believes that cutting a tree is not totally a bad thing because it depends on the reason of cutting it, and the reason one might have planted it.
“It is not easy to convince someone to plant a forest they will not harvest, instead, what I can tell them is, harvest your forest, but do not forget to plant many more once again,’” he says.
23-year-old Jean-Claude Uzabakiriho is keen on protecting the environment. / Jean de Dieu NsabimanaFollow DeDiosNsabimana