I’ve been quiet for over a year, and to be honest, writing again feels slightly foreign. But here I go.
Over the last decade I’ve written countless times about entrepreneurship and farming. I’ve spoken about investing our monies in productive activities and not spending our meager incomes on consumer goods like cars, tvs and the latest iPhones. I’ve spoken about investing more in our rural areas and I’ve talked about increasing productivity (both in our land and our workforce). This is, for the longest time all I did was talk and write about it. But talk is cheap right? I felt that I needed to get my hands dirty and it certainly helped that these topics were passions of mine.
So, I decided to become a farmer. If only I had known how arduous that journey would become, maybe I would have done a bit more research and been less gung-ho. But I guess thats why they say that hindsight is 20/20 right?
While still working as the head of communications at Tigo Rwanda, I found a lovely 1.7 hectare piece of property in Rukumberi, Ngoma District on the shores of Lake Mugesera in 2017 and quickly went to work.
First mistake. I should’ve known that this couldn’t be done virtually. I needed to fully engage with the process and I needed to be there, on the ground, spending my days with the workers, learning and engaging with them. So, Year 1 (2017-2018) was one full of expensive mistakes such as:
a) Don’t use wood as fencing when your land is infested with termites! You’ll have to keep replacing the lumber!
b) Learn what wages are fair in the village! Don’t overpay for a service because you’re used to Kigali wages.
c) Don’t try to plant grass and seedlings right in the middle of the dry season just because you are anxious to see progress! You’ll end up paying tens of workers daily wages to water them. Not smart.
Year 2 (2018-2019) was slightly better, but it was still full of challenges. I had a cottage built using local materials (because I needed to be able to sleep in the village if work needed to be done).
I bought some livestock (chickens and goats) and collected some of cattle that I had been given when I got married in 2016.
The goats were a headache (they weren’t producing fast enough) and the chickens were even worse (they got sick at a drop of a dime and at least one chick was being carried off by the neighborhood fish eagle almost every week), so I sold them off. The cattle were a challenge because I didn’t know much about successfully rearing them and I blindly trusted by mushumba (herdsman). I lost a lovely calf as well as a Jersey heifer that my father-in-law had given to my wife and I because we didn’t take care of them the way we should’ve. But atleast they gave me some like to sell and provided green gold i.e. manure.
This manure was a godsend because……
In 2020, I finally actually tested the soil for the first time and found it extremely depleted vis-a-vis organic matter. In addition it was acidic as well. No wonder my harvests of beans were so meager. I didn’t set myself up for success at all. I did my research (the Shamba Shape-Up Youtube channel was a godsend, I recommend aspiring farmers watch it) and read as much about water systems, modern farming, soil science and modern dairy farming. I also visited local markets to check out food prices to figure out what made financial sense to grow. Then I tackled the water problem I had by purchasing an irrigation system (it certainly helps that the Government pays for half of the costs of the system) and finally a greenhouse to start growing high value crops. So goodbye to beans and cassava and hello to onions and yellow/red bell peppers!
Then I tackled the issue of productivity of my cattle herd. First I made sure that the cow and calf shed was cleaned every day. Then with additions such as maize bran , mineral supplements (that I found in Nyabugogo market) and making sure that they were sprayed for ticks every week, de-wormed on time (every 3 months) I saw production of milk increase three-fold! I became friends with the local vet and now, with his help, all my cattle are artificially inseminated.
My goal is to have 100% Fresian herd in the next 5 years that is 100% zero-grazed. Its a long-term plan, but what I’ve learnt on my journey so far is that everything happens in its own time in farming. You cannot rush the process.
So, you’re probably asking yourself how I am able to do all these things. First, I said goodbye to employment. I learnt that farming is a full-time activity and not a weekend hobby (especially if I wanted to earn something from it).
Secondly, I stopped looking for the cheap way out (what you put in is what you get out). I took a loan to finance this year’s production (I used the loan to purchase the irrigation system, greenhouse, improved seeds, pay the labour costs for anti-erosion measures, purchase of additional composted manure from the local community and build proper calf sheds and cattle kraal).
Finally, I learnt patience. Let me repeat. I learnt patience. This is lifetime’s work, not a season’s. I want to provide high-quality food to our growing country, create more jobs in the village, earn a living for my family and show Rwandans (both young and old) that you don’t need hectares and hectares of land to make farming work for you. Wish me luck!
So, let me formally welcome you all to Amarembo Lakside Farm. In a few months I will be providing yellow, red and green sweet peppers, onions, carrots and beetroots.
You can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be delivering the produce I farm right to your doorsteps, so hit me up 🙂 Support your friendly, neighborhood farmer today.