When Emile Habiyakare dropped out of school over 15 years ago due to lack of fees, his future became uncertain. He, however, says the experience forced him to think outside the proverbial box and started doing small income-generating projects to earn a living. Eventually, Habiyakare decided to venture into farming. Today he is a successful pineapple farmer.
The resident of Mugesera in Ngoma District and a Senior Three school has turned pineapple farming into a gold mine earning Rwf5 million from pineapples per month.
“Indeed growing pineapples on a large scale is not as easy as many may think. It is tiring and requires patience and hard work,” said the 38-year-old as he took us on a guided tour of his 1,000-hectare pineapple farm adjacent Lake Mugesera in Ngoma.
Habiyakare says it has not been an easy journey, but a result of hard work and perseverance.
The entrepreneur kick-started the large scale farming project with only Rwf100,000.
“I had saved Rwf100,000 from selling bananas around Ngoma, which I used to start a pineapple growing project,” he narrates.
He notes that he settled for pineapple growing because of encouragement from a friend and the fact that the weather conditions and soils in Ngoma are suitable for the crop. He almost lost morale because of the time it takes to get first harvest.
“A pineapple farmer waits for more than 12 months before they can get their first harvest. This often discourages many, especially those that have no patience or are after quick gains,” he explains.
Luck was not on his side during the initial stages of the project as Ngoma experienced prolonged drought in 2013, a situation that saw him lose almost all the crop and start afresh because he lacked any form of irrigation equipment. The setback did not, however, deter him.
Starting a co-operative
To increase production and maximise profits Habiyakare mobilised more than 100 farmers who agreed to consolidate land and form a co-operative. That is how we managed to establish Koabanamu Co-operative to address the challenges that pineapple farmers were experiencing.
He added that the co-operative also a platform for farmers to share knowledge and expertise on how best to maximise on yields which helped him as an individual to master the art of farming.
He says that one of the challenges he faced was to find enough land to grow the crop.
“Unlike other crops, you must have enough land to benefit from pineapple growing, which of course is difficult to get,” he explains, adding that the long dry spells always affect production.
Getting ready market for the perishable crop is a big challenge.
The issue of drought also plagues farms and, Habiyakare calls on the government to invest more in irrigation facilities to help farmers produce throughout the year and also increase production and farmers’ household income.
How to grow pineapples
The model farmer says one needs to select pineapple suckers carefully to ensure production and resistance to weather vagaries and pests and diseases.
“Pick one up at any market then separate the leaves from the fruit and soak the base in water. In a few weeks, roots will sprout,” he says.
Pineapple plants take over 12 months to start bearing fruits. While you are waiting for the plant to produce a fruit, you must ensure proper crop husbandry practices and lookout for rodents that could destroy them.
The model farmer says the best soils for pineapple production are non-compacted, well-aerated and free-draining loams, sandy loams and clay loams that are deep and not rocky.
“Good drainage is essential for a strong root system. A weak root system makes the plant more susceptible to root rot disease.”
A soil pH in the range of 4.5-5.6 is optimal for pineapple production, according to Habiyakare.
He adds that appropriate temperature is essential to ensure crop productivity.
The enterprising farmer says the optimum air temperature must range from at least 32°C, during the day, and 20°C at night for one to get good yields.
Like an old saying goes, success is no accident but rather a result of hard work, perseverance, learning, sacrifice and most of all, being passionate about what you do. For Habiyakare, the journey has been long and winding but hard work and a combination of these attributes has seen him prosper as a pineapple farmer.
From Rwf100,000, the farmer now earns more than Rwf5 million every month. He produces over 50 tonnes of pineapples every month.
“It is from pineapples that I have managed to build a permanent family home, bought more land and take care of my family without a challenge.
He attributes his achievements to the good leadership of President Paul Kagame and his government.
“Farmers are the biggest beneficiaries of peace and stability brought about by President Kagame,” he told Business Times.
Habiyakare employs more than 600 residents of Mugesera, and the number often goes up during the harvest season.
Habiyakare plans to establish a juice processing plant to add value to the crop to ensure more gain for his business and those of other farmers in the district.
“I am also planning to open a training centre where farmers can acquire modern farming skills,” he adds.
Advice to agriculture sector stakeholders
We appreciate the support and relentless efforts by the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources to help farmers. However, the ministry should dispatch more agronomists to work closely with farmers to increase productivity.
Access to technical support, expertise and modern skills will enable farmers to exploit their full potential, he says.
“Equally, more resources should be channeled toward ensuring farmers get inputs at subsidised prices as this will help spur production and create more jobs and, hence increase the sector contribution to the national economy,” according to Habiyakare.
What other people say about Habiyakare
Alexis Harerimana, a cooperative member, says Habiyakare is a hard working farmer who loves his job, adding the model farmer has inspired many in the district, especially the youth, to join the sector or start up other enterprises.
Hategeka Nyansi, a resident of Mugesera, says Habiyakare has contributed to agriculture transformation in Ngoma.