A few metres off the Musanze-Kinigi highway, near Kinigi trading centre in Nyange Sector of Musanze District, lies a house in which Irish potatoes are grown.
The house stands out because it contains some unique farming systems to multiply Irish potato seeds.
Some of the machines used by Karegeya to feed nutrients to Irish potatoes that he grows in the aeroponic screenhouse
It is here that Apollinaire Karegeya grows Irish potatoes on wood-made containers linked by pipes that feed nutrients to the seeds through the help of an automated power generator – a practice known as ‘aeroponic’.
Karegeya told The New Times that he turned to aeroponic screenhouse systems because it was free from crop diseases.
The outside view of Karegeya's aeroponic screenhouse in Musanze District
“Most of my fellow potato farmers believe in traditional ways of growing the crop in soil, which is not safe as the soil contains thousands of bacteria. This practice of growing Irish potatoes in air may come as the solution, given the fact that the crop get all the nutrients that it should get from the soil,” he said.
Karegeya, a primary school graduate, said he learned about aeroponic from study tours he attended in countries with advanced agriculture, which were facilitated by the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry.
“I also read some books on modern agricultural practices,” he said.
An automated machine is seen behind Karegeya’s aeroponic screenhouse. The machine elevates nutrients to Irish potato seeds in the wooden containers where they float till the harvest period.
Karegeya said he bought the machine at Rwf500,000.
He explained that Irish potato grown under aeroponic screenhouse gives 10 times produce more than the one which is given by the potato grown in soil.
“Each potato grown in the air is harvested 6 times and you can get at least 100 new Irish potatoes while you only get 10 Irish potatoes whenever you harvest a potato grown in the soil,” noted Karegeya
Commenting on the capacity of his aeroponic screenhouse, Karegeya revealed that he harvests the seeds which should be planted at 100 hectares and he thus multiplies 12 tonnes of Irish potato seeds at every planting season.
Karegeya works closely with the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) to make sure he produces quality seeds which respond to farmers’ needs of high productivity.
“I always consult RAB for advice and acquire the vitro plants from RAB. It is from the vitro plants that I get mini tuber, the plantlets that farmers normally grow,” he noted
Karegeya said he has so far invested Rwf45 million in his aeroponic screenhouse. The biggest chunk was spent on building the facility as well as buying machines.
The seeds that are multiplied by Karegeya under aeroponic screenhouse are sold at Rwf400 and 600 a kilo depending on the season.
Farmers in Musanze District and its environs said they trust the authenticity of the seeds that are multiplied by Karegeya as they found them to be disease resistant.
“Previously, we used to buy potato seeds in neighbouring countries, which most of the time presented bacteria that impede production,” said Benjamin Kayumba from Musanze District.
The Head of Rwanda Agriculture Board in Musanze District zone, Jeannine Uwumuremyi, said Karegeya contributes significantly toward government efforts to avail quality seeds to Irish potato farmers.
“The mini tubers he produces are of good quality as they are normally free from disease,” she noted.