FOR MANY DECADES, 57-year-old Callixte Kalisa survived on small-scale subsistence farming which he practiced in the rural Gafumba Cell, Huye District.
The father of six practised traditional agriculture, never used fertilisers and mixed several crops on one plot.
Due to skills gap and lack of modern techniques to increase productivity, Kalisa and his family lived under biting poverty.
“I ignored everything from the use of fertilisers in our plantation to the adoption of quality seeds and irrigation,” Kalisa says.
“I had resigned to fate and had accepted my poor living conditions,” he adds.
But two years ago, Kalisa benefited from a skills development programme organised by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) with an aim of improving the quality of cassava stems in the area.
Kalisa was among the first people to enrol in the programme. At the beginning, the trainees were introduced to modern farming, with emphasis on cassava growing and the use of quality seeds to increase productivity.
Willing farmers were offered Rwf250, 000 per hectare of quality cassava and benefitted from a follow-up by experts who came to monitor and help them improve their skills further.
They were later helped to get markets for their seeds, something Kalisa says was a turning point in his life.
“The skills we got helped me realise that agriculture could help farmers improve their livelihoods. I also got some money from the project which I invested in commercial farming,” Kalisa says.
Embracing new techniques
Kalisa earned over Rwf500, 000 from the project as he had grown cassava on a two-hectare plot of land.
When the project ended, Kalisa was well equipped to embark on a new journey of socio-economic transformation.
Using savings from the money he had earned, he bought a piece of land with view to further expand his farming activities. He planted about 50 orange trees in the plot to diversify his income sources.
Last year, he shifted from cassava growing to extensive growing of maize and beans. He is also part of a local rice cooperative and grows vegetables for commercial purposes.
Equipped with modern farming skills, Kalisa adopted a small-scale irrigation scheme which allows him to grow vegetables, mainly cabbages and onions, during the dry season.
He has as well trained in quality compost manure making techniques to increase soil fertility and boost production, fetching him money from selling the organic fertilisers.
Last season, he sold compost worth Rwf300,000. A kilogramme goes for Rwf40.
“Embracing modern agriculture has helped increase our production and income,” Kalisa says.
On the same two-hectare plot of land where he used to harvest one sack (about 100kgs) of beans, Kalisa currently harvests over 300kgs of beans and 200kgs of maize per season, five times more than the previous harvests.
“In the past, I used to farm for survival but now I am farming for both subsistance and commercial purposes,” he says.
Kalisa says he has emerged from abject poverty to a relatively well-off farmer.
Apart from making his family food secure, he has invested money from farming into other activities such as animal husbandry. He currently keeps two pigs and two Friesian cows, having recently donated another one to a neighbour.
“My life has significantly improved,” he says.
“Contrary to my past beliefs which made me look at agriculture as a less paying job, I now know that agriculture is a lucrative business,” he beams.
“We only need to transform from traditional to modern techniques,” he advises.
Despite the challenges posed by changing weather and climate patterns which have strongly affected food production, Kalisa believes modern methods, technologies and techniques offer a chance to mitigate their adverse impact.
He says; “ for me, living poor is a thing of the past and nothing will stop me from continuing to increase productivity.”
“I am optimistic about the future,” he says with a broad smile.