Karangwa: Ngoma’s dairy farming consultant who never went to school

Aristotle Onasasis once said; “It’s during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light”. And, as the old adage goes: “He who laughs last, laughs best.” So, when 57-year-old Jeremie Karangwa was a herdsman a few decades ago, he went through thick and thin to lead a better and meaningful life, Business Times’ Peterson Tumwebaze and Seraphine Habimana report.
Karangwa feeding his cows. The New Times / Peterson Tumwebaze
Karangwa feeding his cows. The New Times / Peterson Tumwebaze

Aristotle Onasasis once said; “It’s during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light”. And, as the old adage goes: “He who laughs last, laughs best.” So, when 57-year-old Jeremie Karangwa was a herdsman a few decades ago, he went through thick and thin to lead a better and meaningful life, Business Times’ Peterson Tumwebaze and Seraphine Habimana report.

However, the resident of Kibungo, Ngoma District in the Eastern Province was never short of perseverance, he always worked hard and saved whatever little money he could. Karangwa had a dream: An ambition to shame those who never believed in him.

He had a mission to ‘reach the stars’ and touch other people’s lives. He also wanted to turn around his fotunes, the lack of formal education notwithstanding. He says the herdsman ‘jobs’ gave him the right foundation and ‘schooling’ he needed to start his dairy farm project. 

How he started

Because Karangwa did not go to school, he spent most of his childhood looking after his parents’ and neighbours’ cattle.

“It was a heartbreaking experience, especially when most of my agemates were going to school. The bushes from where I grazed the cattle were my school,” Karangwa narrates.

“During the holidays, my friends and I would meet; they discussed life at school and I always told of my escapedes as a herdsman.” However, not all was gloom. Karangwa decided to use the opportunities life presented him.

“Working on people’s farms equipped me with vast experience on cattle keeping. For me, it was a privilege when people called me a herds boy. Some even laughed at me, saying I was doomed,” he says.

He adds that people who ridiculed him only made his resolve to work hard and lead a better life stronger.

“I knew cattle keeping would eventually define my destiny... That’s how the idea of starting a dairy farm was born. I told myself one day: ‘If you can look after other people’s cattle and they multiply, what if they were yours?’. That’s how I started,” narrates Karangwa.

He points out that because he had been in the trade since childhood, he was determined to make his a model farm, where other farmers would learn better farming methods.

“I started the project with three cows I bought using my savings, but that did not matter to me. I was looking at what my farm would be like in, say, 20 years ahead,” Karangwa says.

Disaster stricks 

As they say, life is not a straight line. When Karagwa’s cattle had reproduced and multiplied to about 20 hybrid cattle, disaster struck in form of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. The bloodshed and lawlessness that ensued over the next four or so months left the budding farmer ‘empty-handed’.

“Although I lost the cows, I was re-energised by the fact that I still had life.

“I knew that as long as I was alive, I would keep pursuing my dream...Life is the source of wealth,” he notes philosophically.

Karagwa says when he returned from exile, he sold part of his land to restart his project. He notes that he got some local cows from returnees and, later, the Rwanda Development Bank gave him one exotic cow.

“Because of the experience I had attained as a herds boy, farmers started consulting me on issues concerning cattle management. Sometimes they would give me calves for saving their cattle,” Karagwa notes.

He says this trust amplified his desire to work even harder to make his project a demonstration farm for Ngoma District.

“That’s when I started phasing out indigenous cattle and concentrated on exotic breeds,” he recalls. The effort has paid off because, today, Karangwa is one of the top and respected farmers in the district.

His farm is also one of the model farms in the area.

Challenges

Rearing cattle is like taking care of children, notes Karangwa. He says cattle need a lot of care and attention, as well as money.

“Cows, just like human beings, are affected by demand and supply of pasture and water supply. And the more cows you have, the more land you will require for pastures and water. This has resulted into constant movements by some farmers during the dry season in search of pasture and water. Besides, land is expensive and scarce,” he says.

Karangwa says cattle farming is also affected by seasons, like other businesses.

“A dry season spells disaster for farmers.  During this period, farmers sell off some off their cattle at low prices because of lack of pastures,” he notes.

Ironically, the rainy season is no better, he adds. He says during the wet season, there is an upsurge of pests and diseases.

Achievements

Karangwa, who is married with five children, says he has no regrets working on people’s farms. “The experience and skills I got from that have brought me all this wealth,” he boasts.

Today, Karangwa has over 50 exotic cattle. He gets 20 litres of milk from each per day and earns over Rwf600,000 per month from milk alonr. He says he always sells heifers at between Rwf800,000 and Rwf1.5m each. He says he fetches over Rwf2m per month from cattle sales alone.

Karangwa has also ventured into banana farming, earning about Rwf300,000 from his two-hectare plantation.

He does fish farming too.

The former village herds boy owns a milk processing plant and has built himself a residential home worth Rwf70m. He has also put up a commercial building in Ngoma town that fetches him decent money.

The jolly farmer says he has so far donated 80 cows to his friends, relatives and neighbours to help them start income-generating projects.

Advice to farmers              

Famers are like other business people, they should be ready to take on risks. “Productivity in cattle farming always depends on how much attention and care you give the animals. Good care means more milk and beef production,” Karagwa counsels.

He says keeping farm records is vital in cattle farming as they help one establish the productivity of each cow. “It’s from these records that you are able to determine which cows to sell and at what price,” he notes.

It is also important to guard against trespassers to control pests and diseases, he says. He advises farmers to divide their grazing land into paddocks to safeguard against pasture scarcity, especially during the dry season.

He also urges farmers to identify and keep the more productive cows, arguing that it is pointless to keep a lot of cattle that are costly in terms of care and treatment. He says visiting and learning from other farmers and co-operatives is one of the best ways one can improve their herds productivity.

Karagwa, who also attributes his success to good governance, says patience in farming is key.

Subscribe to The New Times E-Paper


You want to chat directly with us? Send us a message on WhatsApp at +250 788 310 999    

 

Follow The New Times on Google News