Jean-Nepo Sibomana’s early life was characterised by moving from the home of one relative to another having lost all his family members in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
The computer engineering graduate from University of Rwanda’s College of Science and Technology and a native of Gatsibo District, Eastern Province was able to complete his education, thanks to support from his foster parents.
After his university studies in 2008 he was lucky to get a job in one of the banks. He however later threw in the towel in pursuit of his first love, entrepreneurship. Using his family land, that had remained idle for years, Sibomana embarked on a social entrepreneurship project that also doubles as peace-promotion and community building initiative.
“I wanted to invest in an income-generating project that would unite and benefit the community, as well as promote peace and human rights,” explains the Murambi sector resident.
How he started
Sibomana says he was convinced by friends in 2012 to return to his mother district. He had spent 10 years without visiting the area before then.
With the little savings from his bank job, the young social entrepreneur decided to invest in modern farming in 2016. He kicked off the project growing water melon and pineapples before switching to maize and pig rearing.
“Water melons and pineapples did not do well at first due to poor agricultural practices and prolonged drought, so I decided to venture into maize growing and piggery,” says Sibomana. The project cost about Rwf2 million.
“I expect to earn Rwf12 million in profits from the maize project alone, while the 20 pigs I bought have since multiplied to 174 boars and piglets.”
The farmer adds that he uses the pig droppings as manure for his crops.
His earlier bad experience with prolonged drought taught him a hard lesson, forcing him to adopt modern farming methods.
He has constructed two ground tanks to harvest rain water for irrigation. This season, he planted 131 kilogrammes of maize seeds on six hectares and expects to harvest 40 tonnes.
He is also looking to venture into growing beans in future because trials have showed that the crop can do well on his land.
“I planted five kilogrammes of seeds and harvested 92kg. This is a good sign and I am now planning to grow beans on a bigger piece of land,” he says.
Sibomana employs over 150 residents in his farming activities, especially those that fall under the first and second ubudehe categories. He also has a resident agronomist.
He adds that the bulk (117 people) of the employees were hired over the past seven months.
“About 40 people are involved in growing pineapples and water melons, while there are four permanent workers currently looking after pigs,” he says. The permanent staff earn Rwf50,000 every month.
Setting up a training centre
With support from the district and a business partner, the young entrepreneur is setting up a vocational training centre, which is expected to be completed by April.
“The centre seeks to equip people from the surrounding community with modern farming skills, while women will be trained in better ways to make baskets. We are also going to link them with buyers in Australia,” explains Sibomana.
About 25 women are currently working the Agaseke K’Amahoro (Basket of Peace) Cooperative. The group, which includes genocide survivors, seeks to deepen unity and reconciliation in the area, Sibomana says.
Veneranda Mukagatete, one the members, says the group started three months ago, adding that they have so far made 60 baskets following support from the young entrepreneur.
Mukagatete says they sell the baskets at between Rwf5,000 and Rwf7,000 each, depending on size and design.
Speaking after the launch of the vocational training centre recently, she said that the women, who used to work as Sibomana’s farm hands, have a workshop from where they converge to weave baskets.
Local leaders speak out
Richard Gasana, the mayor of Gatsibo District, urged other young entrepreneurs to invest in agriculture, saying it is important for skilled young people to work as models for the community.
“We are happy that the centre is training farmers in modern agriculture skills. We need other innovations that help link producers with buyers,” he said.
What beneficiaries say
Residents are happy that Sibomana’s projects have equipped them with modern farming skills, which will improve agricultural productivity.
“I acquired skills about modern farming besides Rwf1,500 I earn daily. This will enable me to improve farm output,” said Liberatha Uwamariya, a single mother of three.
Uwamariya says she is now able to meet all her family’s basic needs, adding that she has bought a goat and one pig to ensure a sustainable source of income. She plans to build her own house and also supports her mother and siblings.
Anitha Dukuze, a mother of one, started a small fruit selling business using money she earned from Sibomana’s project. She also runs a retail venture for clothes that she started with Rwf50,000. She hopes to set up a small eatery in her neighbourhood to expand the family’s income streams.
Paul Byungura, another beneficiary, says he saves part of wages with a local savings group. He has been able to buy one pig and has two goats and one bull.
For Jean-Paul Nayigizente, he can now harvest five sacks of maize from where he used to get one sack previously, thanks to good farming practices learnt from the centre. He also grows pineapples, carrots and pumpkins.
The upcoming farmer has one cow which he bought using money from the project.