Teba, in Gihango sector, is a small village in the Western District of Rutsiro with about 200 households. It is home to Francois Bapfakwita, a farmer whose success story is a unique rise from zero to a model businessman.
Unlike most of the subsistence farmers in the area, Bapfakwita practises modern farming in both crop and animal husbandry on a large scale.
Every year, he generates a gross income of around Rwf6 million from his cows. This agricultural season, he planted maize on four hectares of land where he estimates to fetch some Rwf2 million.
When I met Bapfakwita at his cow shed where about ten employees work on a daily basis, he explained how the rise to his recognition as an exemplary farmer has not been smooth.
Dressed in a pair of grey trousers and a dark blue jacket, both his hands energetically plucking at the edge of a feeding trough, he seldom stands straight and when he does, it is to answer a telephone call. That is the state in which I found him.
He began to narrate his extraordinary story.
Born in 1960, Bapfakwita’ began from scratch when he joined the army at the age of 18. He could guess very little about his future successful life as a farmer.
Away from the care and company of his parents, his childhood was punctuated with many ups and downs.
“I served the army for over 16 years. We later fled to the DR Congo during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi but returned shortly after,” he said.
Upon returning from exile in 1997, Bapfakwita remembers starting his farming business with a single cow.
As years went by, he recalls receiving an exotic bull from the Ministry of Agriculture in 2005 recognising him as one of the exemplary farmers at the time.
“The community members were able to get 46 cross breeds as a result. I got some exotic siblings too and that’s how I managed to start the project of animal husbandry,” he said.
At that stage, Bapfakwita approached Rwanda Development Bank (BRD) seeking for a loan to further improve his agricultural business.
When eventually he acquired the Rwf20 million loan, Bapfakwita bought 10 other hybrid cows and he has since then never looked back.
Despite his success, the father of five reckons that most farmers lack the basic knowledge on proper agricultural practices otherwise the average yield each season would increase.
He revealed that one of the secrets behind his success is the practice and implementation of modern farming methods and guidelines provided by experts.
As a way of contributing towards the promotion of food security and elimination of poverty amongst the local population, Bapfakwita intends to distribute some of his cows to his neighbours.
“Once the number of the cows increases to a significant level, I will distribute them to my needy neighbors under similar condition as those of “Girinka” programme,” he pledged.
“Girinka” is a programme inspired by the Rwandan culture and initiated by President Paul Kagame in 2006. It aims at enabling every poor household to own and manage an improved dairy cow.
This would help the family to better their livelihood through increased milk and meat production and to improve soil fertility of their land for their crops using the available manure.
Bapfakwita thinks that his future ambition will not only improve the nutrition, but also increase the earnings of beneficiaries from milk and other milk products.
“I have personally benefitted from the sale of animal products such as meat and manure. I have no doubt that it will help to improve the community around me,” he says.
I didn’t hide my curiosity about this and Bapfakwita later told me of his constant desire to participate in the development of the society around him.
I further couldn’t stop wondering what such an elderly but energetic man like him had done to elevate his neighbours and was surprised by how he introduced electricity in his home village.
“I introduced the idea of forming an association of 44 people and we collected Rwf9 million to spearhead the campaign. With the support of well-wishers and other developmental partners, we were able to get electricity,” he proudly said.
In addition to his farming business, Bapfakwita owns a modern brick furnace which has also helped the local community in various construction activities.
For all the he owns, Bapfakwita is grateful for the support offered by local leaders especially in the agricultural department though he thinks that it’s not yet a ‘bed of roses’.
He says that the quantity of milk produced from the farm is too much compared to the demand from the nearby community.
“It has now become an obligation to travel long distances in search of clients. The demand rate is way lower than the supply rate,” he lamented
But higher yields and greater ambitions mean that Bapfakwita has become an exemplary famer possessing physical proof of his improved livelihood and the community around him.