Evariste Mutibagirana, a large-scale banana farmer, is considered a 'survivor' by most of his peers. He worked his way up to the top from being a farm hand.
Fondly referred to as the "Master Teacher" by the banana growing community in Rwamagana District, Mutibagirana was indeed conducting a training session on modern farming skills when we arrived at his banana plantation last week.
The over five-hectare banana plantation, plus large scale cassava and coffee growing has over the last 23 years helped propel the Karenge sector resident into one of the millionaires in the district.
The farmer earns more than Rwf1 million from his banana and cassava sales every month. Mutibagirana's monthly coffee earnings are at an average of Rwf2m, and he has been recognised by government for a model farmer.
How he started
The start for the 62-year-old Mutibagirana was not easy, like many other school drop-outs. The farmer says he started tilling people's farms following his parents' death.
Matters were compound by the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi where he lost whatever he had saved.
His resilience and hard work, however, saw him rise up from this tragedy and pick the pieces to earn a living and improve his livelihood.
"I used to supply manure, like cow dung, to farmers before deciding to venture into farming myself," he explained.
After realising that the country needs food, I decided to dedicate my life to farming full time, he said, adding that he does not regret the decision to venture into agriculture.
The farmer started with less than one hectare, where he planted banana suckers before venturing into other crops.
He pointed out that he embraced modern innovations to boost production and maximise profits.
He said that being able to understanding concepts like plant spacing, mulching, and fertiliser application helped him to increase farm yields.
The mixed farmer uses cattle droppings as manure for his crops.
He said President Kagame donated a Friesian cow to him as a start-up.
However, his journey into large-scale farming was fuelled by patriotism and a desire to feed the nation.
"It is important that we produce enough food to ensure Rwandans do not go hungry," he added.
Prolonged dry spells and price fluctuations, which he said "make it hard for farmers to plan and later acquire credit" are some of the main challenges Mutibagirana faces.
Pests and diseases also give the farmer sleepless nights and affect his earnings.
He said one must always be alert to detect and prevent the spread of diseases like banana wilt to ensure constant productivity.
He is however confident that government's latest interventions to support farmers in the fight against pests and crop diseases will help bolster the agriculture sector and improve farmer morale.
The farmer calls for more investment in post-harvest storage facilities to reduce losses.
From working on people's plantations, Mutibagirana now earns more than Rwf3 million from his farming activities.
He also has seven Friesian cows and has managed to pay school fees for his children.
"Who knew that a farmer could also take his daughter for further studies abroad," he said, referring to his eldest daughter who recently graduated from university in the Netherlands.
He credited all that he has achieved so far to the good leadership of President Paul Kagame.
"All you see here is because of the peace and stability brought about by the President," he said. Mutibagirana employees over 30 farm hands, all from Karenge sector.
He also conducts trainings for most farmers from across the district.
Mutibagirana said farmers should keep and update their production records in order to maintain consumer confidence in food quality and safety.
"They should also apply proper crop protection strategies to reduce the use of chemicals, but also observe the required standards during transportation, storage and disposal of pesticides in order to minimise detrimental impact on the environment and conserve nature and wildlife," said the model farmer and trainer.
Mutibagirana plans to establish a training centre, where farmers can sharpen their skills. "I believe it will help farmers increase yield and quality along value chain," said the father of nine.
He is also targeting the export market (especially for bananas) to supplement his income.