It is always said that a good name blesses its bearer. Opportune Uwamaliya is one such person. Frustrated by poor pay as a primary school teacher, she threw in the towel to try her hand at business and commercial farming. From 500 chicks (for layers) and 5 piglets, she now has over 4,000 layers and 70 pigs, with total assets valued at over Rwf50m
She was just another teacher; one of the thousands of primary school teachers in the country 13 years ago. And like all her colleagues, she earned about Rwf20,000 a month, which she says was too little to cater for all her needs. Fed up with the status quo, Opportune Uwamaliya threw in the towel in 2000 to start a retail business and later, mixed farming.
“I had always thought about how I could become a great farmer despite training as teacher,” she says.
Forty-year-old Uwamaliya, a resident of Gakenke sector in Gakenke District, is now a renowned farmer in the country. Her main farming activities are poultry and piggery.
“If I wanted to realise my dreams, I had to ‘wake up’, take a risk...when you have an idea and commitment, then nothing can stop you,” she says.
Uwamaliya notes that she had to risk and take the big leap into self-employment, adding that farming has taken her places. “No one has to boss me around; I am my own boss,” she says.
Interestingly, Uwamaliya dreamt of becoming a nun and doctor when she was growing up. She says she was, however, later persuaded by her mother to study education “because my mother admired teachers”.
Uwamaliya specialised in teacher education in secondary school. After graduation, she got a teaching job at a local primary school, “but at that time, the salary was so little. I had to dump teaching”.
“I acquired a bank loan and started a retail shop. I was determined to change my life, that of my family and community.
”One cannot change their destiny, but they can influence it,” she argues.
She adds that after three years, she used some of her savings from the retail business to start a poultry and piggery project, with 500 chicks and five piglets. And as they say, the rest is history.
“The money I raised from chicken and egg sales was reinvested into the business and I also started a restaurant and bar in Gakenke town,” Uwamaliya says.
She says she chose to rear layers because they have a good return on investment. She adds that she had a lot of interest in agriculture, noting that that is the secret behind her success.
“Besides, I wanted people in my community to improve their livelihoods by offering them jobs and interesting them in modern farming.
“I recruit most of my workers from our villages and surrounding neighbourhoods,” she points out.
Uwamaliya sells the chicks locally at Rwf2,200 each, while a tray of eggs costs Rwf2,500 and a mature pig goes for between Rwf150,000 and Rwf300,000, depending on size. She says her local clients are scattered across the country.
Uwamaliya says poultry farmers in Rwanda are being squeezed out of the market by regional producers. She says that their only relief is demand in Gisenyi, where people from the DR Congo come and buy eggs and off-layers.
She says Kigali, which is supposed to be their main market, prefers imported eggs. “Rwandans prefer imported eggs to locally-produced ones, which is straining the sector. In fact, we will continue struggling if this does not change,” she said.
She notes that the project requires a lot of effort, meaning that she has to be at the farm to ensure that things are done as per plan.
“But nothing can dampen my passion for the project. And because a lot of families depend on it, I cannot give up and let them down,” she says.
Uwamaliya says as long as her efforts impact the community, she will soldier on. She notes that when she was starting out, people thought she was out of her mind. “They, especially fellow women, laughed at me, wondering how I could abandon teaching to rear ‘dirty’ chicken.
From 500 chicks and five piglets, Uwamaliya boasts of over 4,000 layers and 70 pigs today. She earns about Rwf1m per month from the sales of her products. She says all her four children are studying from the best schools in Kigali and Musanze District.
Uwamaliya also has six vehicles, including a family car and trucks she uses to transport eggs, chicken and pigs and Bralirwa products. She is the brewer’s sole agent in Gakenke.
She also has a banana plantation and grows vegetables and fruits to support her restaurant business. She uses the manure from poultry and piggery project as organic fertilisers in the banana plantation and gardens.
“I have bought three pieces of land and I am planning to expand the business and set up a meat canning factory,” she narrates. Uwamaliya employs 40 workers in all her businesses, 28 of whom have free accommodation at the farm.
Her workers earn between Rwf20,000 and Rwf100,000, depending on one’s qualifications and role. Uwamaliya graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from ULK. She says her assets are estimated at over Rwf50m.
Inspired by poverty
Uwamaliya says as a child, her family and village mates lacked almost everything. “I wanted to change this situation through modern farming by empowering the community to carryout agriculture as a business to enhance their livelihood,” she explains.
Although many thought she was doomed after quitting her teaching job, Uwamaliya showed them that one could earn a decent living without a white collar job.
“No one could imagine me as farmer, especially women. But I had a passion for farming, was committed and I knew what I wanted. I planned everything I did before hand,” she explains.
Her efforts were recognised in 2010, when she was seconded by the government to go for training in Egypt and China to study how women can transform society.
Uwamaliya’s role model is the First Lady Jeanette Kagame. Also, the President’s words of wisdom keep her going in hard times. She supports President Paul Kagame’s call for self-reliance, saying no one owes Rwandans anything. “It is only us who can develop our country, not foreign donors,” she argues. Uwamaliya’s star seems to be rising farther as she plots to become one of the most successful and respected women in the country.
Advice to women and farmers
Uwamaliya argues that women are God’s ‘chosen people’ and so should work hard to please Him for this honour. “Women should stop the dependence mentality and work hard… Shunning jobs, especially those that are seen as ‘small’, is also recipe for disaster. It doesn’t matter whatever job you start with, it will take you to the desired dream job,” she counsels.
Uwamaliya underlines the fact that women are able, but have to discard the dependence mentality to make it big in life.
She advises farmers to have a vision and purpose, and stick to them. She notes that when one devotes all their energies to farming, the rewards are immense.
She also advises them to abandon archaic farming methods and embrace modern agro-business.
What others say about Uwamaliya
Innocent Nzabandora, a resident of Gakenke District
Uwamaliya is an ambitious woman, who is passionate about whatever she does. She has contributed a lot to the development of our village, her business has helped us a lot. She is our inspiration; we are proud of her.