Start by doing what’s necessary and the possible and you will manage the impossible, goes an old adage. This is the life story of Mariana Mukagasangwa, a 56-year-old widow who is minting millions from growing legume crops. The resident of Kageyo sector in Gicumbi District has turned her passion for farming into a money making project. The farmer who practices enterprise mix mainly cultivates legume crops – climbing beans, peas, and soya.
Mukagasangwa says she learnt basic farming skills from her parents who were peasant farmers. She says they mainly cultivated legume crops for home consumption. “I fell in love with farming as a child watching my parents in the garden,” she says.
Though Mukagasangwa did get formal education, she worked as a Sunday school ‘teacher’ for five years before retiring to pursue her passion in farming.
Sunday school ‘teacher’
Even as a Sunday school teacher, life was not the best because for the 56-year-old farmer as she was working on voluntary basis. “So, after a couple of years I started tendering farms in the neighbourhood and, eventually, gained the experience to start farming for myself,” she narrates. I started with growing beans and peas on a one hectare piece of land and only harvested less than 100 kilogrammes every season, she explains.
However, as time passed by, the demands for the mother of five increased forcing her to devise ways of increasing productivity.
“I had no choice but to become innovative and transform what used to be a traditional way of farming and become the modern farmer that would meet her demands and those of the community,” she narrates.
She adds that being a mother increased the need to put more food on the table and other basic needs. “This required me to be innovative, thus I began growing crops using modern farming skills.” She later on diversified into growing maize and other root tubers including potatoes and cassava.
Mukagasangwa’s breakthrough came in 2013 when she was invited to participate in the land husbandry, water harvesting and hillside irrigation project by the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources.
“This was the game-changer because I learnt how one could commercialise farming and get out of poverty,” says the former Sunday school teacher.
She says she learnt about crop rotation, as well as how to operate small irrigation systems and the important of using improved seeds and mulching, among others.
“Before I joined the project, productivity was low and it was hard for farmers to fight poverty,” she notes.
Mukagasangwa says some of the challenges the project faces include weather vagaries like prolonged droughts and heavy rains, and market price fluctuation.
“There are also many farmers growing legume crops, which means increased competition and leads to reduction in prices during the harvesting season,” she notes. Limited storage facilities, lack of sustainable market and inputs, such as fertilisers are the other challenges she faces.
The former Sunday school teacher boasts of a permanent house. She says her children have graduated from college. She has expanded her farm from one hectare to more than 10 hectares. This has enabled her diversify and start a livestock enterprise, with goats, 20 pigs and over 1,000 birds.
Her crop production has also increased from 100kg of beans per season to one tone a season. Commonly referred to as the role model, Mukagasangwa attributes her success to the Land Husbandry Water Harvesting and Hillside Irrigation project. Her efforts have also paid off as she supplies produce to most schools in the district. She is a source of inspiration for women and youth.
Advice to farmers
Mukagasangwa says her secret to successful farming has always been the desire to follow her passion. “Most people think farming is for failures…they don’t look at agriculture as an industry with potential to lift people out of poverty. Farming is essential to ensure sustainable development, besides it is the only competitive advantage we have,” she notes. She calls for value-addition along the value chain to maximise the rate of returns.
Mukagasangwa nurses a dream of establishing a farmer’s field school, saying it is important to equip farmers with the right skills to improve production and household incomes.