When you meet Emmanuel Bucyana he strikes as a seasoned agriculture officer. The strongly-built banana farmer, who spots a moustache and a cropped hair-cut, exudes confidence and, when he talks about farming, it is as if it ‘flows’ in his veins. As looks and appearances can lie (sometimes), Bucyana did not complete high school despite his knowledge of agriculture and farming, write Business Times’ Peterson Tumwebaze and Seraphine Habimana
Twenty years ago he had to undergo the agony of watching his dream of becoming a senior government official vanish in thin air as his parents could not afford school fees.
Bucyana Emmanuel, a resident of Gatore, Kirehe District in the Eastern Province, as a young boy had nursed ambitions of becoming a physician, which were crashed by poverty.
But the youngman was never gave up chasing his dream-life.
“If it was not going to be school through which I would achieve my dreams, then there had to be another way. I had to discover my potential as early as possible lest my future is wasted,” he says of his determination.
When all hopes of joining high school were dashed, Bucyana picked a hoe and started life as a peasant farmer using the family land.
How he started
“My parents had a small banana plantation and a few cattle from which they raised our school fees. However, the money earned could not cater for all of us, that’s how I dropped out of school,” Bucyana narrates.
But that was never to inhibit his ambition of one day becoming a respected person in society. “If I can not make it using the pen, then I can make it using the hoe,” I used to say to myself over and over again.
His determination and positive thinking paid off as not long after he dropped out of school he bought two cows. He says this was the ’real’ starting point of his journey as a farmer. “After some time, I realised that heads of cattle were multiplying, and yet I had no land. So, I had to rethink my strategy and switch to banana growing,” he recalls.
Why banana farming
Bucyana says that after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi there was an acute shortage of food in Rwanda.
“We were importing bananas from Uganda and Tanzania then. That’s when it dawned on that I could make a fortune from commercial banana growing. As it is said, good things come to the risk-takers. So, I knew that if I don’t try, I could not achieve anything,” he explains.
“Besides, I realised that I was never going to succeed as a cattle farmer since I did not have a big chunk of land,” he adds.
He notes that such a project needed one to inject in huge sums of money which he didn’t have at the time. So, starting a commercial banana growing project was the next best alternative. But he still needed the cattle, at least for some time to provide organic manure for the banana plantation.
“The strategy was, first put a banana plantation on half of the land and use the manure as fertilisers, then wait and see how it works out.”
Bucyana points out that the move was a huge success. “I later discovered that bananas need consistency in basics like pruning, thinning, mulching, manure application and pest control. This lifted up my morale, after all bananas growing does not require a big piece of land,” he says.
“That’s when I decided to dedicate all my energy to farming, which became my passion. The fruits from becoming a banana farmer are multiplying by the day, and I don’t see myself doing anything else. You know, the more I care for the plantation, the more yields I get. Things couldn’t be any better,” Bucyana says.
Challenges and solutions
Bucyana says at first it was hard to earn enough money from the one and half acre banana plantation.
“I had to learn the required skills and technology from other farmers to make it productive,” he notes.
With the increase in production came need for a big market, which is always a huge challenge in this sector.
He says that currently, he supplies Kigali and the neighbouring towns. “This is a small market...the government should step in and help us access foreign markets. It will not only motivate farmers, but also contribute to the economic development of the country,” Bucyana points out.
He says he depends on co-operatives, whose primary role is to link farmers to markets across the country.
“Bananas are affected by seasonal changes; one season you have a boom in supply affecting prices and another season there is acute scarcity.”
He says this creates a lot of pressure. “How do you increase prices for your regular customers? Sometime, we have to buy bananas from farmers across the borders to supplement what we produce,” he says.
He notes that variations in weather patterns also hurt banana farmers very much.
“At one time you are dealing with strong winds, then heavy storms hit, destroying the whole plantation in a few minutes. During dry spells, almost all your bananas ripen leaving you in big loss.”
Bucyana says rural-urban migration, where the youth are abandoning farming is not only threatening banana farming, but the whole sector.
“Young people, including the educated, must make a contribution to farming. So if you are not growing food, what will your grand children eat?” he wonders.
He says banana diseases, especially banana weevil, are threatening the crop.
“One plant can infect an entire plantation if the disease is not dealt with in time. Even when it’s your neighbour’s plantations affected, yours stand a big risk of being infected too.”
“We always conduct joint inspections as a co-operative to ensure that all plantations are safe from some of these diseases,” he explains.
Forty-year-old Bucyana has no regrets for taking up banana farming. He says he harvests about three tonnes of bananas every month, fetching him about Rwf500,000 a month.
The renowned farmer is currently constructing a decent home for his family expected to cost him about Rwf20m.
Married with three children, Bucyana smiles as he talks fondly about his children who are studying in one of the best schools in Kigali. The flamboyant farmer has also expanded his plantation, which now covers one and half acres.
He has introduced a new technology of turning banana fibre into raw material for hardcrafts using a machine he bought at Rwf1m. The project employs over 10 workers. Bucyana, who is seen as an expert on banana farming, landed a job at Gatore Farmers Field School as a chief training officer. “I train banana farmers on a variety of skills, including how to increase productivity, disease and pest control, as well as packaging and marketing. I also help them on finding new markets for their bananas,” he say.
Advice to farmers
“Farmers should join co-operatives because they would learn a lot, especially information about farming and market connections, plus financial services like assisting them acquire loans,” he points out, adding: “Learning what you don’t know costs you nothing... that’s the secret behind successful farmers because there is always something you can learn from your neighbour.”
“Its high time people stopped looking at farming from a traditional perspective. Today, we are talking about modern and mechanised farming, which is done as a business,” he notes.
He also says there is need to rethink position on use of chemical fertilisers, claiming that they destroy soil composition. Bucyana also hailed the government on the ban on polythene bags.
Dedicating time and energy on farm work increases productivity, Bucyana, who wakes up at 5:30 o’clock every day, told Business Times.