Tobacco in rural Rwanda, yields higher net returns per unit of land than most other cash crops, and substantially more than food crops.
Moreover, with an assured market and prompt payment, the crop remains preferred by small scale farmers.
The tobacco has a variety of adaptive plant species that can be grown economically in rural Rwanda.
Tobacco thrives in poorer soils, providing farmers with a welcome alternative crop. In many cases, it provides a higher income than any other small holder crop. As a crop, it integrates well into environmentally friendly rotations, and its inclusion benefits subsequent crops like maize.
A typical farmer in rural Rwanda, for example, with one to two hectares of land can earn a good income from only a small part of that land being planted with tobacco.
Mariana Nyirasafari, 48, a resident of Munyaga in Rwamagana says that growing tobacco allows her make ends meet in a more relaxed manner.
“I don’t need big land or straining myself to get money. When I prepare half a hectare of land and plant tobacco, I am assured of income that year. I mean the market is ever ready...some even bought from my garden or house,” she says.
According to Kirehe District Agriculture officer Nathalie Ntirenganya, the preparation of nursery, is what is the most cumbersome.
She notes that tobacco seeds are so small that they must be nurtured in specially prepared and protected seedbeds, for 60 days before transplanting to the field.
“It’s not easy work; you need to bank soil around the seedlings to protect them and to allow them to develop a good root system. Two months later, the plants' flowers and some of the upper leaves are 'topped' in order to concentrate growth in the remaining leaves. This is the hard process of it,” she explains.
It is noticeable that the cost of cultivation of tobacco is much higher, but farmers rarely consider the full economic implications - both costs and returns - of tobacco cultivation.
However, it should be remembered that the small scale farmers do not have to go through all the expensive hustles.
“Farmers use the traditional ways of drying and flattening the leaves and thereafter take the tobacco to the market. So, in reality we don’t invest much, but surprisingly we get more returns than when involved in other crops. This is the bottom line,” says Sylvester Ndilubwimana a famer in Kirehe district.
Small traders in rural areas have also turned to tobacco claiming it attracts more profits than most crops.
Young and old women are engaged in the business in local public markets throughout the year.
It has become one way to generate income for school fees and other essentials for students from needy families.
“I only need Rwf 5.000 to start off tobacco trade...my school fees, uniform and other essentials are got from this business. It never goes wrong as customers are ever buying,” says Alphonse Ntiyonzima a senior five student in Kibungo.
Farmers have thus been slowly but steadily embracing tobacco growing in rural Rwanda. The onuses being that they easily get what they want most-cash.