Poor soils and dry spells are sort of a nightmare for many a local farmer, and are often blamed by many for not taking up agriculture as a commercial venture.
However, Bernard Rugira has managed to take on these challenges head-on. Presently, Rugira will not complain of bad soils or drought. The farmer, who practices an enterprise mix, keeping animals and growing crops, took advantage of the challenges to create opportunities instead, making organic fertilisers and harvesting water during rainy season, which he uses later for irrigation during dry spells.
Rugira has proven that one can be successful in agriculture regardless of the weather or size and fertility of their land. He says to make it in agriculture, farmers need to change their mind-set and utilise every available resource.
“Don’t let any piece of your land, however, small or dry go to waste. That’s why it is important for farmers to harvest rain water and process garbage to make manure,” says Rugira, a model farmer in Musambira Sector, Muhanga District in Southern Province.
Rugira rears dairy cattle, rabbits, chicken besides growing crops, like oranges (both genetically modified oranges and traditional ones), lemons, tree tomatoes (ibinyomoro), apples, cabbages, animal grass (fodder), onions, and bananas, among others. He says he is able to keep his crops and animals flourishing in prolonged dry spells, thanks to innovation and adoption of better farming methods.
“I use the water (I harvest during the rainy season) for irrigation during the dry season, and when I plant off season crops like cabbages… The water always takes me throughout the longest of the dry season,” he says.
He adds that he was able to improve the previously poor soils at his farm by using mulches and organic manure made from chicken and rabbit droppings. “I advise every farmer to practice mixed farming to maximise the potential of both animal rearing and crop growing,” he says.
“Livestock and cultivation comlement each other.”
He points out that he uses old cabbage leaves to feed his rabbits, while the cows feed on fodder he cultivates around the farm.
“As a result, I have improved crop and animal production without incurring any extra costs.”
Rugira started commercial farming in the late seventies out of passion for the trade. He went on to train in modern agriculture from the then Rushisha Agriculture School in the Western Province. He, however, says he acquired most of the knowledge through research and experience.
“I started out small by growing few different crops, including bananas and cassava, but kept expanding as my potential increased.” The farmer also practices agro-forestry, growing onions on the main land and tree tomatoes, apples and papaya on the edges of gardens. And the approach has paid off, with Rugira rising to the level of a model farmer.
He sells the vegetables like cabbages to schools and big hotels, which he says give competitive rates for the produce. The balance is sold in the neighbourhood grocery shops.
Rugira says his daily income from selling eggs, fruits, vegetables (cabbages and onions) and milk ranges from Rwf10,000 to Rwf20,000. Sometimes this amount doubles, depending on the production, he adds.
“I pay school fees for my children in good schools with ease and I am able to cater for all my family’s needs,” he says.
Rugira is also giving back to community by training other farmers in Muhanga District and beyond, which he says has helped many people to embrace commercial agriculture.
Rugira emphasises the importance of value addition, arguing that it is the only way for producers to maximise profits. He says that is one of the reasons he set up a retail shop to sell some of his products, like boiled eggs and roasted ground nuts, as well as fruits and yellow bananas.
Rugira advises farmers to use locally-available resources instead of buying alternatives. He argues that using organic manure, from animal and plant waste, enables one to save money they would have used to buy synthetic fertilisers. He says this helps farmers avoid unnecessary costs. Rugira urges farmers to be strategic and know the market dynamics, noting that it is important to know when to sell produce or when prices are low.
“When the market is flooded with similar produce, the prices will be much lower but if farmers can store the produce and sell later, they earn more,” he points out.
For produce that can’t be stored for longer periods, he advises farmers to be innovative.
He says he plants fruits at different times so that they are ready for harvesting out of season.
“This way, I am able to sell the fruits at a good price because they will be scarce,” he notes.
He says this approach is supported by his irrigation scheme using the harvested water. “I don’t let weather changes dictate my plans.”
He plans to expand his enterprise, employ more people, as well as build bigger and better reservoirs for water harvesting.