Phenias Ndagijimana is a happy farmer. He has seen his rice production more than double in recent years, thanks to good farming practices and a ready market – which has turned around the fortunes of his family.
The 43-year-old father of five says that rice growing on a hectare around 2004 would see him harvest between one and three tonnes, but now he harvests up to six tonnes on a hectare.
“This has greatly improved my family’s welfare,” says he resident of Gikonko Sector in Gisagara District.
Ndagijimana grows rice on a one-hectare piece of land from which he harvests six tonnes of paddy rice per season (every six months), fetching him Rwf1.5 million a season.
“Thanks to good yield, I bought a motorcycle at Frw1 million which facilitates me in my farming activities. I have also been able to raise school fees for my children (who are in secondary school), and cater for my family’s community-based health insurance cover,” he says.
He also manages to save.
A member of UCORIBU, a union of rice farmers’ cooperatives in Southern Province, Ndagijimana said that his harvest has improved considerably thanks to new farming practices backed by the Government of Rwanda and ICM Rwanda Agribusiness, a subsidiary of an Australian firm, Inter-Citizens Mills (ICM).
The cooperative boasts 13,000 farmers in Nyanza, Gisagara and Huye districts.
When ICM and UCORIBU signed an agreement to run the Gikonko Rice Factory, which was in poor condition when the Government privatised it for about Rwf250 million in 2006, it was not clear whether the joint efforts of the two entrepreneurial entities would make farmers earn more revenues and make Rwandan rice competitive at the market.
Yet, today, the partnership has yielded impressive results, including significant rice production, where on average, it increased two-fold from about three tonnes to six tonnes per season.
ICM Rwanda Agribusiness says that in the last five years, rice processed through the factory increased from about 2,500 tonnes to about 6,000 tonnes per year which has resulted in increased revenues.
The privatisation resulted in the acquisition of 60 per cent of its shares by an Australia investor, Douglas Shears, under the ICM Rwanda brand while the remaining 40 per cent shares were retained by the farmers through UCORIBU.
UCORIBU’s members grow rice on about 2,000 hectares of farmland.
Presently, ICM’s Lucki Rice brand is favourably competitive with the wide varieties of imported rice in the country. The firm is now pondering exporting to regional markets, thanks to its quality and varieties that meet strict production standards.
Sharon Umuratwa, the Chief Operations Officer, says that farmers this season earned, on a kilogramme, about Rwf279 (farm-gate price) from ICM, which price is regularly negotiated and set by the two parties at the national level as a guaranteed minimum price for balanced benefits.
In addition, ICM meets with the UCORIBU board once every quarter to assess the general level of performance and challenges in order to jointly improve the working approach and outcomes.
Thanks to a good collaboration framework that guides the partnership between ICM and the rice farmers, there has been tremendous improvement both in terms of quality and quantity of paddy rice produced.
In particular, the paddy delivered to the factory increased by 36 per cent, thereby increasing the turnover by 18 per cent, which in turn resulted in increased sales by 23 per cent in 2016 compared to the previous year.
In acknowledgement and recognition of the registered turnover, the ICM decided to give Rwf77 million in bonuses to the farmers in appreciation of their efforts and to serve as motivation to even better output in the future.
It is the company policy to annually provide the farmers with bonuses relative to the annual turnover. In addition to the bonuses, the company also provided the farmers with Frw10 million in dividends.
In an effort to increase technology adoption to ensure efficiency in farming operations, ICM provided each of the 10 cooperatives, under UCORIBU, with a laptop.
The farmers have been able to construct a Rwf43 million conference hall which the parties inaugurated last week in Gisagara District’s Save Sector, which will be used to rent out for income generation purposes. They also established a savings and credit cooperative at a capital of Rwf80 million.
Both feats were achieved thanks to the bonuses that farmers receive each year.
UCORIBU’s president Jean Pierre Mushokambere said that their union has a win-win partnership with ICM, noting that they want to increase rice produce per hectare from the current six tonnes to about eight tonnes per hectare through best farming practices.
At the inauguration of the hall last week, the Mayor of Huye District, Eugene Kayiranga Muzuka commended the partnership between the company and farmers, which he said significantly boosted the general welfare of members.
He noted that over the past few years, the rice subsector has been gaining momentum in the country thanks to the government’s efforts to work closely with the private sector and developing marshlands.
According to the mayor, at least 3,000 hectares of marshlands in his district have been reclaimed for utilisation by farmers to improve yields mainly for rice.