For many years, Ancille Usanzamaharo and her neighbours, tilled their land haphazardly and never realised enough yields to feed their families.
The 50-year-old resident of Nemba Sector, Burera District, says the artisanal farming was due to the fact that she lacked modern farming skills.
“I practiced artisanal farming in a disorderly manner. I could mix three or four crops on the same piece of land and never applied fertilisers,” Usanzamahoro says.
This situation, she says, had affected the community’s livelihood.
Usanzamahoro says this kind of farming was applied by many residents and had slowed down the area’s socio-economic development.
Local leaders in 2010 encouraged farmers from Nemba, Cyeru and Rwerere sectors to form a cooperative in order to maximise gains from farming.
Local leaders offered them more arable land in the valley to help improve their productivity.
The farmers formed a cooperative known as Cooperative Burera Valleys Valorisation (COVMB).
Then members were tasked to take care of the three valleys in the district.
“We were equipped with modern farming skills and worked together to have better yields,” she says, adding that they immediately shifted from artisanal to modern farming.
Usanzamahoro, who serves as the vice-president of the cooperative, says the skills they acquired helped them not only as a team but also on their individual farms.
She says that more efforts were put in developing modern farms in the valleys as most of them did not have enough land.
“We focused on collective farming in valleys since most of us did not have enough individual pieces of land,” she says.
The farmers rotated maize and Irish potatoes in the valleys and their production increased threefold.
The cooperative has over 1,400 members with 315 hectares of farmland. It also boasts an agronomist who helps farmers in the daily activities.
“We have adopted modern farming, apply both organic and chemical fertilisers and practise monoculture using selected seeds. We work with our agronomist and local leaders to ensure we get good harvests,” she says.
Rosalie Mundanikure, another member of the cooperative, also says she has witnessed positive changes since joining the cooperative.
“I can meet my basic needs, feed my children and pay school fees. I have also managed to buy a cow and have cow dung I use as fertilisers,” she says.
James Gasana, the coop agronomist, says the cooperative has helped farmers acquire skills and techniques to boost production.
“Currently, farmers know how to apply fertilisers and select quality seeds,” he said.
“Production per hectare has increased to 25 tonnes up from 15 tonnes and the target is to get 30 tonnes per hectare,” Gasana added.
He said the current production of maize per hectare stands at 2 tonnes.
Farmers say their motivation previously was to satisfy the needs of their families but are now working toward improving their economic status.