How mangoes helped Bugesera farmer escape poverty trap

In Mayange sector, Bugesera District, lives Thaddée Munyemana, a prominent fruit farmer who appears to see opportunities where others don’t.
Thaddée Munyemana in his farm. The New Times/Seraphine Habimana
Thaddée Munyemana in his farm. The New Times/Seraphine Habimana

In Mayange sector, Bugesera District, lives Thaddée Munyemana, a prominent fruit farmer who appears to see opportunities where others don’t.

Having lived all his life on farmland, Munyemana has tried almost all types of crops that can grow in Rwanda. Some have disappointed him; others have changed his life, while some few have earned him a fortune.

Now the 56-year-old farmer earns about Rwf2 million per season from a 12-acre piece of land.
 
How he started

Born in a subsistence peasant family, Munyemana never set foot in a classroom. Instead, he joined his parents in a struggle to put food on the table.

“I never complained because the situation was clear to me. My parents could not afford school fees. The situation was not any different for most children in my village—one had to struggle on your own…”

A few privileged children, however, attended school and Munyemana admired them.

“We used to admire those children from rich families who went to school, especially whenever they returned to village during school holidays.”

Taking his call seriously, Munyemana started on two acres of land he inherited from his departed parents. He cultivated traditional crops including cassava, beans, and maize.

“I realised that farming without specialising would not lead me anywhere. I struggled to put my name across the market, nobody knew me until I decided to specialise in cassava and maize.”

Yet as people’s standards of living kept improving, most started looking at traditional food crops like cassava as secondary. “Coupled with the risk of attack by pests and diseases, cassava farming was never going to be a good venture for me either,” he added.

Turning point


After he lost four acres of maize due to drought in 2001, Munyemana decided that it was time to switch to fruits. “Life almost came to a standstill given the debt I owed to those who supplied me maize seeds and fertilisers. I took a decision that changed my life to date—that is growing mangoes on a large scale.”

Back then, there were many people with huge chunks of idle land. Munyemana approached them with a suggestion to lease or a promise to share proceeds from the harvest at the end of a season.

“Now that the most crucial factor of production was in place, nothing was going to stand in my way.”

He embarked on growing mangoes alongside pineapples.

Challenges


Soon he realised that it was not going to be easy either as pests, disease, drought, and sometimes floods brought new challenges. And the fact that fruits are perishable compounded the problem.

“If you survive drought, pests and crop diseases, you are immediately faced with another challenge of marketing which must be dealt with in time, otherwise produce will rot.”

This would sometimes force the farmer to sell at give-away prices.

Practicing modern farming always comes at a cost, according to Munyeman; this cost takes toll on your profits since it requires large sums of capital that is not always available.

“We are talking of mechanised agriculture, modern systems of irrigation, fertiliser application, all these require a lot of money and commercial banks are not always willing to lend because of the risk they foresee in farming.”

Despite challenges, Manyemana has since expanded his farm to over 15 acres and harvests about 1,000 tonnes of mangoes and pineapples every season.

The father of four has also built himself a nice house and educates his children in good schools. “I want all my children to attain the education I never got,” Muyemana said. His oldest son recently graduated from College of Science and Technology (Former KIST).

Future prospects

Now Munyemana is not only eying the export market, but also establishing a juice processing plant on his farm. “I want to satisfy the local market first because, as you may have seen, the supply of mangoes and other fruits is still very low compared to the demand. “This gives me the opportunity to exploit the local market first.”

According to Munyemana, agriculture provides and will continue to provide economic opportunities for Rwanda. “The government should, therefore, scale up investments in this sector that is employing many people. Farmers need to consider value addition, quality and use of advanced technologies very seriously because this is where agriculture is heading.”

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