THERE is no shortcut to success. It comes as a result of good planning, hard work and learning from failures. Eric Ntiyigena, a resident` of Rucumbo Village, Nyabicwamba, Gatsibo District put the saying into practice when he set out to venture into tomato farming 10 years ago.
From humble beginnings, he now earns millions in profit from tomato growing.
“Lucrative tomato farming entails precise planning and timing in addition to months of hard labour to get quality produce,” the 41-year-old farmer says.
After failing to make it in retail business, Ntiyigena threw in the towel to venture into tomato farming. Ntiyigena says he started small by growing beans and maize before venturing into large scale tomato farming.
Now a model farmer and a source of inspiration in Gatsibo District, Ntiyigena has no regrets for investing in what many called a risky economic activity.
He says as many of his friends headed to the local bars to drink alcohol, he would spend most of his evenings tending to his crops to maximize production and profits.
Ntiyigena says his failure to make it in retail business was rather a source of inspiration to venture into farming.
Like many farmers, Ntiyigena says he started out small growing legume crops including beans and maize on less than an acre of land.
Unfortunately due to the tight competition, he was forced out of business thus venturing into tomato farming.
“Almost every house hold was growing similar crops which automatically affected market prices,” he says adding that his venturing in tomatoes was not only an opportunity to maximize his profits but as means of diversification to remain competitive.
Despite many people looking at tomatoes as a time consuming activity and most risky compared to other crops, I was ready and determined to take on the challenge, he says.
“What you see on this farm now, started as a dream, but due to intense pressure not to fail, and consistency, we are now harvesting more than 3 tonnes of tomatoes every season,” he narrated as he took Business Times around his tomato farm.
He says the beginning was tough and not even banks were willing to give him credit.
Taking advantage of the dry spell
The father of 5 says; the secret of making money from tomatoes is to grow the crop during dry season.
“There are few farmers growing tomatoes during the dry season which often translates into low production and high prices, this is when farmers make money,” he says adding that the post-harvest losses are normally low during the season.
The Gatsibo farmer points out climate change and poor road infrastructure in Gatsibo as one of the biggest threats to his farm projects.
For example too much rain means lots of damages and pests and diseases while prolonged droughts often translate into low productivity.
“The problem is often magnified by limited access to finance which makes it difficult for farmers to increase production,” he says before urging banks to start looking at agriculture as another investment opportunity with high returns.
More so, Ntiyigena, says price fluctuations and high variability of the crop often affects farmers’ profitability.
“Ntiyigena urges government to establish more processing plants that can help farmers add value to the crop through agro processing.”
Like the saying goes “no pain no gain” Ntiyigena’s perseverance finally paid off.
He now earns more than Rwf6million from growing tomatoes and another Rwf3million from maize, beans and potatoes per season.
From less than a hectare of land the Gatsibo farmer has since expanded his farm to almost 5 hectares harvesting more than 30 tonnes of tomatoes every season.
It is from tomatoes that he is able to pay fees for his 5 children and using proceeds from tomato farming, he has managed to venture into other activities including real estate.
“I have bought more land which I will use to venture into more horticulture farming,” he says
Tips on how to make money from tomatoes
Ntiyigena says, it’s possible to make tomato growing a lucrative business.
First he says, you must have done your homework right in terms of land tilling to get the right soil texture, applied fertilizers especially composite and ensure the weather is favourable.
“Tomatoes are among the most consumed cproduce in the country and offer higher profit margins than most other crops; however, to be able to profit from the crop, farmers must ensure proper usage of fertilizers, mulching and consistency in irrigation intervals,” he says adding that proper pesticide spraying and pruning is a must if one is to maximize output.
Proper storage and packaging during harvesting also helps to reduce on post-harvest loses, he tips.
Ntiyigena says that producing organic tomatoes has become more profitable these days due to the ever increasing market demand.
Ntiyigena has not stopped dreaming big, turning tomato growing into a cash cow, he now plans to venture into agro-processing and export trade.
“The idea is to be able to set up a tomato processing plant in Gatsibo so that we can start exporting processed tomatoes to regional and global markets, he says.
He is counting on a number of initiatives including the Made in Rwanda campaign which seeks to boost local production and consumption of homemade products.
Point of inspiration
Ntiyigena is a devoted Christian and says he draws inspiration from reading the Bible.
I also admire the good leadership of President Paul Kagame, because it’s through his good leadership that we as farmers have been able to get out of poverty.
What people say about him?
Alphonse Nsengiyumva another farmer in Gatsibo District, describes Ntiyigena as a motivated farmer who is always trying out new innovations to increase production.
Eric Hakuzumwami, a tomato trader, says Ntiyigena is a consistent farmer and always supplies his produce on time.