More than 100km from Kigali, near Akagera National Park fence and on the shores of Lake Ihema in Kayonza District, is a green farm jointly owned by local brewerBralirwa, and Minimex, a maize processing plant in a joint initiative known as Bramin Ltd.
With maize being the main ingredient in most of Bralirwa’s beer products, the maize grits are produced by Minimex. It used to import most of the raw materials which made the brewer engage in various projects to bridge the gap.
According to Stanislas Nsabimana, the Deputy Farm Manager, maize has been the priority for the farmstanding on on 165 hectares this season with other crops.
Beans were planted on 23 hectares, potatoes on 26 hectares, sorghum on 13 hectares, while 37 hectares were used to grow different types of vegetables; including pepper, onions, aubergines and tomatoes, among others.
A centre-pivot irrigation system at BRAMIN farm. The crops are weeks away from harvest.
The project’s total land mass is 650 hectares, but this season they have grown various crops on 337 hectares, using irrigation.
The preparation of the land and full installation of the irrigation schemes between 2010 and 2014 cost Rwf3.2 billion.
A pumping station was installed at the lake, with a machine that has capacity of pumping 580 cubic metres of water per hour to an 8,400m3 holding dam, leading the water into six centre-pivot irrigation systems that cover 300 hectares, and 125 sprinklers that water 37 hectares.
Five of the six pivots irrigate 52 hectares each, measuring 420 metres horizontally. With its 15.9mm precipitation, the system moves 15 seconds and stops 45 seconds to water the soil.
The irrigation is mostly done during the dry season in June, July and August.
“This irrigation method is a good one, since it does not demand much labour; in the morning you start a pivot system which irrigates 52 hectares, you only check if it has finished the watering and then you stop it,” said Nsabimana.
Lake water in a dam, before spreading into the irrigation systems.
“The more we learned about the soil and the right fertilisers we should use, as well as the seeds, the more harvest we got. In 2016, we were producing eight tonnes of maize [per hectare],” he added.
The first harvest in 2014 was 4.5 tonnes per hectare.
“This maize plantation looks good, we expect to harvest nine tonnes from this season, but our actual target is 12 tonnes, and we are certain that by the end of 2020 we will have realised it,” he revealed.
Deputy Farm Manager, Stanislas Nsabimana.
They chose maize for the long season variety over a short season one, meaning planting two seasons in a year, instead of three, however, Nsabimana described that as a more productive move.
Impact to the community
Nsabimana adds that the project employs over 150 people from Ndego, 80 of whom are permanent workers.
Draught has been a major concern for Ndego for years but Bramin farm became a food market for the employees as well as other residents, who get the food at lower prices than any other market.
“A market which sells at good prices is at Murindi, but it is two hours when you are using a bicycle and three hours on foot,” Theodore Nsengayire, an employee at the project since 2013, says.
A machinery preparing the farm, ahead of the start of season in September.
Christine Mukagasana, 45, who hails from Mwurire village, Kiyovu Cell, says it would not be easy to get food if she was not working at the farm.
“At the Bramin market, we buy maize at Rwf200 a kilo, while it is Rwf300 in other markets. I am able to feed my family of six children, despite being a single mother. My children are now studying without any problems,” she said.
Mukagasana also says the employees have saving schemes which enables them to buy more tangible properties, such as small livestock among others.
Nsabimana, the deputy farm manager, stated that they also provide different facilities to the people of Ndego, mentioning solar systems which were recently provided to over 200 residents, as well as health insurance schemes.
“This means that as the project grows, the benefits for the residents will increase too,” he said.
Bralirwa reaping benefits too
Aline Pascale Batamuriza, the Corporate Affairs and Communication Manager at Bralirwa, confirmed that the project was initiated because the country’s leading brewery wanted to cut costs for importing raw and also transform people’s lives.
“Once the raw materials are locally produced, it could increase the quality and eventually make the end customer buy the drink at affordable prices,” she noted.
Since 2014, the local brewery and its parent company, Heineken, partnered with European Cooperative for Rural Development (EUCORD), to assist the implementation of a five-year project entitled Community Revenue Enhancement through Agricultural Technology Extension (CREATE).
A crop nursery near the pumping station at Lake Ihema.
The $2m project boosted quality and quantity of maize production for over 15,000 farmers and 50 cooperatives.
“If we had raw materials from Rwanda, it would determine prices for the consumer,” she noted.
Both CREATE and BRAMIN have been successful: Between February and May, the Minimex did not import any maize and supplied grits to Bralirwa.
Aline Pascale Batamuriza, Corporate Affairs and Communication Manager at Bralirwa.
Minimex is also a giant producer of maize flour for human consumption.
“In those months, 100 percent of the raw materials came from Rwanda,” Moses Ndayisenga, Maize Procurement Coordinator at Minimex, told Sunday Times.
“Before the two initiatives, only 20 percent was bought from Rwanda, and the quality was still low, but today; the quality of Rwandan maize has surpassed that of the imported grains,” he said.
The plant used to reject 80 percent of farmers’ maize produce over poor quality, mostly due to poor post-harvest handling, but Ndayisenga said that, thanks to different efforts, the rejection rate is below five percent.
Ndayisenga, however, said more efforts by maize-value chain players are still needed to increase the maize production quantity.