It is cool a Tuesday morning in Rubavu District. Mathias Nzabonimpa and his employees are busy working in a banana plantation in Rubavu Sector.
Nzabonimpa is the envy of many in the community due to his farming success story. For many years, he was a retail shop owner, but with a passion in farming.
“I always dreamt of practising modern farming, but the conditions were unfavourable. I had limited land and lacked the capital and technical knowledge to venture into farming,” he says.
Nzabonimba’s dream seemed a far cry since he neither had land nor the means to acquire it.
It was not until 2000 when he acquired a small plot of land that the father of seven children started banana farming.
“I started with eighty banana suckers as a trial. When they matured, I expanded the plantation using the money I got after selling the bananas,” he says.
Nzabonimba, however, says the journey has had a few bumps. In 2005, the banana plantation was destroyed by a banana disease locally known as Kirabiranya.
“This was discouraging and I thought it was the end of the road for me,” he says.
Nzabonimpa had no idea of what to do next, so he planted elephant grass on his land which he sold to other farmers to prevent soil erosion.
When the disease was finally contained in 2007, local leaders assured farmers that the soil was safe for banana planting, Nzabonimpa resumed his farming venture.
“I resumed but with little hope that something good would come out of it,” he says.
Luck came knocking when the Ministry of Agriculture distributed high breed banana suckers to local farmers.
Nzabonimpa says he planted 15 suckers donated by the ministry.
“I realised that the new variety was better and I uprooted the elephant grass. I planted more suckers and after one year, I started harvesting,” says Nzabonimpa.
Embracing modern farming
At the time, Nzabonimpa’s land was less than a hectare.
His farm grew steadily and he modernized his activities, thanks to the various trainings he had received from Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB).
“I embarked on modern farming in 2010 and I have not looked back. The more I harvested, the more I acquired land from my neighbours,” Nzabonimpa says.
“Currently, I have three hectares of land, all bought using proceeds from bananas,” he says.
Nzabonimpa currently grows the Fia17bana variety and another variety locally known as Injagi.
One bunch of Fia17 banana weighs between 150kg and 200kg. It costs about Rwf15,000, while other varieties weigh between 100kg and 150kg and cost about Rwf10,000.
Nzabonimpa says he sells the bananas locally and in DR Congo.
He says he earns over Rwf600,000 per month after paying employees.
Nzabonimpa says his biggest achievement is being able to acquire his own land.
He has also improved the livelihood of his family because he has a steady income.
“My family leads a better life now. I have managed to take two of my children to the university - one in Malaysia and another one at a university here in Rwanda. The other children are in good secondary schools,” he says.
Nzabonimpa hopes to keep improving his farm and to buy a truck to ease the transportation of his goods.
Other banana farmers in Rubavu say they have learnt a lot from Nzabonimpa.
“I used to work on Nzabonimpa’s farm for years and learnt a lot from him. I know that the journey is still long but so far I can feed my family and educate my children because of the skills I learnt from him,” says Pascal Ndagijimana.