From rags to riches: Digging up treasure from a banana plantation

RESTLESSLY, she keeps on pacing around her banana plantation; as she tenders her plantation, she strips it of unwanted weeds. Though restless, Euphrasie Mukankaka looks content. She cannot look away from her admirable banana plantation, in Rwamagana.

RESTLESSLY, she keeps on pacing around her banana plantation; as she tenders her plantation, she strips it of unwanted weeds. Though restless, Euphrasie Mukankaka looks content. She cannot look away from her admirable banana plantation, in Rwamagana.

“I owe all my wealth to this,” says Mukankaka pointing to a huge heap of harvested bananas.

Standing amidst the tall banana plants, they seem to be her passion. Her banana plantation is characterized by tall banana plants (locally known as ‘Injagi’) which she says are the best local quality any farmer would yearn for.

Mukankaka’s ‘Injagi’ are well mulched and looked like someone could seat on the ground without getting their clothes dirty. 

Amazingly her plantation is well aligned and orderly. The banana plants are arranged almost in straight lines that occupy one and a half hectares of land. She has plans of increase.

“It’s all about proper spacing and determination to prune them,” said Mukankaka.

Speaking about determination, the 43-year-old mother tells of her leap of faith and firm decision when she quit her professional teaching job nine years ago to concentrate on farming.

“I used to earn very little and could never sustain my three kids and husband who was then jobless,” she says with a smile.

Mukankaka was a primary school teacher. When she quit, she was scorned by fellow teachers who called her all sorts of names.

“They said I was going to starve to death, and that I was lazy while many others said agriculture wasn’t the best I could concentrate on in this learned era,” said Mukankaka.

Though it was an uphill challenge at the beginning, the yields have become too good that she barely recalls what she previously went through. Mukankaka only remembers how tough life was before banana agriculture transformed her life.

“I recall when I couldn’t afford to take my ill son to Rwamagana hospital yet I was employed. I walked door to door begging for money until a kind person gave me Rwf1000,” she recalls.

As she narrates her sad past, a nonk from a pickup interrupts; Mukankaka quickly calls out names and in flash, four muscular men start loading bananas onto the back of the car.

“I make two trips to Kigali every week,” she later says as she points to the fully loaded pickup. This is her personal car, one of the benefits she has yielded from banana farming.

On average, majority of Rwandans earn a salary of Rwf150,000, but Mukankaka earns Rwf350,000 each month from her banana plantation. On a weekly basis, she earns at least Rwf70,000.

Mukankaka calls banana growing her best life transformation. The benefits seem to be endless as she mentions them.

“I can pay school fees for my three children; one is at the University while others are still in secondary school,” she said.

Mukankaka lives in a well furnished house with running tap water and electricity courtesy of her plantation. She has also built a bigger self contained house which she plans on renting out at Rwf100,000 per month.

As she speaks, Mukankaka points to a tiny mad house. “It’s too hard to believe that was my home before,” she says.

Since she started agricultural farming, Mukankaka made a personal promise never to quit. She has also invested in cassava farming and supplies ground cassava flour to schools around Rwamagana.

Though agriculture is not attractive for many Rwandans, Mukankaka advises that all Rwandan farmers should give priority to banana growing.

“The magic behind a successful banana plantation is proper planting, having quality suckers and mulching,” she said. She dubs banana growing as a job that is not so tiring. However, in Rwanda quality banana growing is still on the low.

“People prefer quantity to quality,” said Frank Karangwa, an agriculturalist with RADA.

A bunch of quality banana weighs between 75-100 kgs but farmers always opt for the beer bananas which weigh 20 -30kgs.

“In Rwanda, 30percent are food consumption bananas, 60percent are beer bananas while 10percent are desert bananas,” said Dr. Charles Murekezi, a consultant with the Ministry of Agriculture.

He explains that this is why Rwanda still imports bananas from Uganda. Much as the demand for the crops consumption is high, the country’s production is still too low.

If focused on, Murekezi said, banana farming can improve on the economy as well as food security.

“An example is of Uganda, during the 1980’s when there was a civil war, food crisis was never heard of because of banana growing,” Murekezi said.

Unlike Rwanda, most regions in Uganda survive on banana growing. These are in the Western, Central and South Western Uganda.

“Advanced banana growing is one business where one is assured of profits as years go by,” said Mukankaka who encourages interested farmers to follow in her steps.

lillianean@yahoo.com

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