When Emmanuel Semugeshi started growing garlic on a commercial basis 15 years ago, he was not sure that the venture could become a cash cow. Many people associate garlic with a strong and discomforting smell not a money making machine.
The 40-year-old primary school dropout used to grow fruits and Irish potatoes on a small piece of land before embarking on growing garlic.
“I started by planting 50 kilogrammes of garlic on an acre of land from where I harvested about 500 kilogrammes of the crop. This brought in about Rwf600,000 compared to Rwf100,000 I invested,” he told Business Times in an interview during the recent workshop on organic farming. He added that when he realised that the crop could bring in huge profits, he expanded the project to 20 acres of land and focused on garlic farming as his main cash crop. The crop is used as a spice in cooking and it has medicinal properties.
“I currently grow it on about 80 acres of land where I harvest three tonnes of garlic per season. I sell a kilogramme at between Rwf3,000 and Rwf3,500 and I get about Rwf10 million in every season of five months which means we grow garlic twice a year,” he said.
The farmer has been able to buy more land worth Rwf20 million and has build a residential house valued at Rwf10 million using proceeds from organic garlic growing.
Semugeshi explained that he had failed to build a permanent house before he started growing garlic. He also had only a small piece of land of not more than 20 acres of land. That is all now in the past. The model farmer also has an eucalyptus tree plantation, and his two children have completed secondary school, while others are going to complete Senior Six this year.
Semugeshi has inspired other farmers to grow garlic and formed an association of 25 garlic farmers who grow and export the crop. They have started to export garlic to Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan and the DR Congo. He said the association has a store in Nakasero Market in Kampala.
“We use organic farming methods and apply locally-made manure since the garlic grown organically attracts premium prices compared to that where they use chemical fertilisers,” he said.
He added that this has given them a competitive edge over other garlic suppliers, saying buyers like organic foodstuff that is of quality.
While a kilogramme of organic garlic costs Rwf3,500, non-organic is at Rwf1,250. Semugeshi started exporting organic garlic in December last year. The association exports to Uganda up to 20,000 tonnes of organic garlic every week, he added.
“We are always overwhelmed by buyers when we reach the market with clients saying they want Rwandan garlic. The high demand means that we export most of the produce to the region,” he said.
The farmers are looking to expand the export market into other countries outside EAC.
He said the group currently faces a challenge of packaging. “Once we get quality packaging materials, the value and price could increase,” he said.
He added that the garlic is making huge inroads on packaged Chinese garlic.
Climate change is also having a toll on their activities, especially during the dry season. He said that after realising that the garlic has a big market inside and outside Rwanda, more sensitisation is needed to urge more farmers to embrace the crop.
“We are seeking more seeds to expand the acreage under garlic as the crop does well in Rwanda,” he added.
Organic promoters speak out
Fr Jean Bosco Nsengimana Mihigo, the vice-president of Rwanda Organic Agriculture Movement, said organic farming is the way to go for Rwanda, arguing that it attracts better prices and hence increases farmer and household incomes.
The group trains farmers and consumers interested in organic farming on how to grow the crop and market the produce, noting that they also linking them to market.
The group is a national umbrella organisation that unites producers, farmer organisations, processors, exporters and importers, and institutions involved in production, processing, marketing and export of organic agricultural produce in Rwanda.
“We need a national policy that defines how organic farming can be practiced and protected, then researchers can continue looking at how organic farming can give more productivity,” he said.
He added that crops grown organically attract better prices.