Rwanda: From Despair to Prosperity – How Farming Changed a Widow's Life

It is 8:30a.m, a very busy Wednesday morning, Genevieve Mukanama is already preoccupied with her six casual employees in her banana plantation. She and two male employees are harvesting bananas while four females are weeding out unwanted vegetation from the plantation.

Mukanama does not only own a banana plantation, she also breeds an assortment of livestock.

She owns a poultry farm and herd of fresian cows. Agriculture and livestock have made her a well known person in the area despite losing her husband at a tender age of 34.

Now 50 years old, the mother of seven resides in Rusagara Cell, Gakenke Sector, Gakenke District.

Sharing her account, she says that widowhood has been a key motivating factor for her to work hard, as she strived to raise her children alone.

“After my husband passed away, I was desperate because he was the pillar of the family. His death shocked me and left me hopeless. I did not know how I would manage to take care of my young children,” Mukanama, who was pregnant with her last born when husband died, said.

Then faced with the grim reality that the future, or bluntly put, the survival of her brood were in her hands, she started working hard on the family farm, but the rudimentary method she employed could not as much feed her not-so-small nucleus family, let alone getting surplus to afford other needs like education, health, or clothing.

Besides her seven children, Mukanama had adopted two other children.

“Though I had no other occupation other than farming, my target was to educate all my children up to university but it was like a dream because I had a target without clear plan in mind on how I would make it possible, I only asked God for support,” she said.

She started toying with an idea of practicing modern agriculture to boost the production on her small farm but the means to do this remained a challenge.

“I started cultivating maize and beans separately while working in my banana plantation which was at the time way too small, but the challenge persisted. I had no farming skills and couldn’t get manure to make my land more productive,” she said

That time, she says, she used only organic manure and she could only work tirelessly to keep her children in school, two of whom were in in high school in 2001, and others in primary.

Since 2002, Mukanama’s production started to increase thanks to the use of manure. She had managed to buy a cow which provided the manure which she says at least helped her boost the production.

Enter poultry:

By 2005, Mukanama found it increasingly hard, now that most of her children were not only in high school, but also the growing demand to feed them, that she ventured into poultry.

“I started with only 50 layers and would sell the eggs they laid, and just after five months I realised it was a very productive venture. That time women were mobilised to work with banks. I acquired a loan of Rwf200,000 from a bank, to which I added to Rwf100, 000 I had saved up and bought more chickens,” she said.

Mukanama says that chickens produce eggs daily; every day she collects eggs which she sells twice or thrice a week. She says that poultry has since changed her life and that of her family.

She now has more than 500 layers which produce more than 420 eggs daily. She earns more than Rwf800,000 per month only from eggs.

She resells the hens when production goes below 70 per cent and replenishes her coop.

With proceeds from poultry, Mukanama has managed to buy four Friesian cows which not only produce milk for her children but also gives her surplus to boost her income.

The cows, she said, have also produced manure for her plantations.

“It all comes from proper planning. I have been selling eggs and other produce from agriculture. I started saving with banks soon after I ventured into poultry which enabled me to buy the cows, two of which produce 20 litres of milk a day,” she says adding that the four cows ‘alternate’ in delivering.

Modern farming:

In 2005, Mukanama was selected among other farmers to go for training in modern banana planting which was conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, where she says she acquired skills that would later benefit her.

“They also provided us with modern banana suckers which I planted, and replaced the old trees. I also extended my plantation.”

The profit from banana plantation started multiplying and it was very encouraging, I discovered that putting more effort in agriculture and livestock can be very lucrative. What I called dreams just a few years ago is now a reality,” she says, vowing to continue expanding her activities. She has now set her sights on becoming a farmer famed not only at the national level, but also in the region.

On her modern banana plantation, Mukanama says she can now harvest a bunch of banana weighing as much as 100kg, which is a departure from the past where one bunch could only provide one meal for her family.

And she sells each banana for Rwf10,000.

She also uses biogas she gets from her livestock. According to her, biogas has solved the problem of time consuming and trees felling among others. Some of the challenges she faces are precipitation, which remains unpredictable for farmers and lack of chicken feeds among others. But this is a far cry from where she was less than a decade ago.

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