Coffee farming and trade have been a male-dominated territory for decades. However, Theopista Nyiramahoro, a resident of Musaza sector, Kirehe District in Eastern Province, defied this centuries old setup by taking them head-on, registering with astounding results.
Her business peers attribute her success to her nerve for taking risks, which has made the 45-year-old one of the big coffee farmers and dealers in the country.
Nyiramahoro says she dropped out after completing primary education. With no other option, she ventured into farming. She notes that though she was still young, she had a passion for farming, a reason she chose to try her hand at it instead of going to look for menial jobs elsewhere.
Though the beginning was hard, requiring a lot of patience and hard work, she hang in there.
“I started by growing legumes such as beans and maize on the family land. In 1998, I decided to venture into coffee growing because of the good prices offered to farmers at the time,” she says.
Nyiramahoro says she wanted to take advantage of the political stability in the country, adding that farmers were assured of ready market for their coffee.
“I seized this opportunity and planted more 200 coffee seedlings on a small piece of land I have bought. With assistance from agronomists I was able to expand my plantation to more than eight hectares of coffee with more than 2,000 trees within five years,” she says. Nyiramahoro says she grows a variety of other crops, including maize and beans, which helped earn her first million.
Nyiramahoro says her 20-year journey in farming has been characterised by persistence, endurance, courage and determination and is anchored on her passion for farming.
More than 400,000 households in Rwanda depend on the crop as a source of income. The country grows mainly Arabica coffee.
Nyiramahoro says she learnt more about farming, especially coffee, from those that had joined the sector earlier, and agronomists.
“This helped me to acquire agronomic and better crop husbandry skills which enabled me to increase production,” she says.
As a strategy to market her coffee and have access to farm inputs, Nyiramahoro convinced other farmers to organise themselves in a group, giving birth to COCAMU Co-operative in 2003. “With the co-operative, it was easy for us to acquire certification allowing us to export coffee.”
Nyiramahoro says her main challenges have been price fluctuations, low consumption of coffee in the country and poor infrastructure network among others.
“It is difficult to transport the cherries to washing stations or factories because most feeder roads are impassable,” she says.
She adds that lack of electricity in some areas is also a challenge, particularly for efforts toward value-addition. She, however, acknowledges efforts by government to address the challenges, but calls for more investment in development of basic infrastructure to boost the industry.
Nyiramahoro plans to construct a modern warehouse to reduce post-harvest losses incurred by farmers. She adds that she is already in process of securing another truck to strengthen her logistic department.
Funds allowing, she has plans of constructing a coffee processing factory to add value to the beans before they are exported.
Women should join co-operatives and also be confident enough to participate in any sector of the economy.
“We need to come out and contribute more to national development.
That’s how we will be able to create more jobs and reduce poverty in our households,” she says. Nyiramahoro advises farmers to embrace modern agriculture practices to maximise profits. “Treat farming as any other business to be able to enhance your household income,” she says.
What other people say
Many officials at NAEB say Nyiramahoro is a dedicated and hard working woman who has turned risks into opportunities.
Alice Musabyimana, a farmer in Kirehe District, looks at Nyiramahoro as a source of inspiration, saying the country needs more visionary farmers like her to take agriculture sector to the next level.
From a humble small-scale farmer, Nyiramahoro’s productivity has over the years increased her crop out to 17 tonnes per season presently.
She attributes this milestone to the National Agriculture Export Board (NAEB) efforts that have enabled her and other farmers to enhance quantity, quality and encourage value-addition, as well as support from the coffee co-operative.
The mother of three earns about Rwf5 million from coffee and other produce each season. Overall, the co-operative produces over 1,000 tonnes of coffee beans for export per season, she says. She notes that they are targeting to almost double this in coming years.
Nyiramahoro has built rentals in Kirehe District using savings from coffee trade, has 15 Friesian cows and has bought more land to expand the coffee plantations. “I bought two trucks to transport the coffee cherries to the washing station,” she says, adding that she is able to pay school fees for her three children in good schools.