Young people, including fresh graduates, have been encouraged to venture into agriculture because the sector presents immense opportunities across the value chain.
According to the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda’s 2013/14 Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey (EICV4), at least 13.5 graduates in the country are unemployed.
Agriculture grew by 3 per cent in the first quarter of 2017, contributing 32 per cent to the country’s GDP, according to NISR quarterly report released in July.
Diego Twahirwa, a pepper grower, said he is already reaping big from agriculture, a sector he joined in 2012 shortly after graduating from university.
Twahirwa, 28, started from scratch, he said. “The only thing that I had was my knowledge and a small piece of land,” he recalls.
He says that he began by growing tomatoes before switching to pepper.
When he started out with tomato growing, his capital was Rwf500, 000.
He started his chili business in January 2016, and is already exporting his products (Didi’s chili oil) to Belgium, Switzerland and the U.S.
When Twahirwa started out he had two hectares at his disposal. Today, he has since expanded the total area of his farmlands to over 150 hectares countrywide.
He mainly practices his farming activities in Bugesera District, and has a processing plant in Masaka in Kigali.
Twahirwa graduated as an agronomist from National University of Rwanda in 2012.
He says a big number of young people don’t take agriculture seriously yet it is actually a ‘goldmine. ’
University graduates have a tendency of associating farming with illiterates and semi-illiterates, he said. “That’s wrong and it’s depriving many young people a chance to live a decent life”.
But he also faults financial institutions for not supporting agriculture or startups in the sector. “It’s hard to get a loan to invest in farming activities.”
Yet, he said, one does not need huge capital to venture into agriculture.
“It’s wrong to think of capital first,” he said. “What matters most is the idea. That’s what leads to a good proposal.”
Any amount of money can start business, he insists.
But he warned young people with intentions to start business to first get acquainted with the kind of business they want to do and the challenges and opportunities that exist in the sector they want to venture into.
“You have got to scan and understand the sector,” he said. “Some research is necessary before doing anything.”
Marcelin Kanimba is a beekeeper. He started his beekeeping project after discovering that there was still a gap in honey production in the country.
He opened his beekeeping business after completing his university studies in accounting.
‘Risk part of game’
“Youth fear taking the risk” he said. “However, to know that risk is part of the game. A farmer may take a loan and then their produce gets affected by bad weather. That’s normal. If young people are to do business and succeed they have got to be brave and patient,” he said.
Jean-Baptiste Hategekimana, the Chairman of Rwanda Youth in Agri-business Forum (RYAF), said there are many opportunities in the sector.
Twahirwa happens to be a member of this forum, and currently is its vice-chairperson.
Hategekimana said the relatively high prices of foodstuff on the market suggest that there is a lack of enough producers and deficit in volumes.
“The price of tomatoes is an indication that we don’t have enough produce on the market,” he said. “Young people should see this as a big opportunity and make the most of it.”
Albert Mugisha, a relationship officer at Business Development Fund (BDF), which supports youthful entrepreneurs, said the Fund is ready to support anyone with a good business plan, at 75 per cent.
“There are many opportunities in agriculture. Mechanised agriculture is gradually taking root and the youth are the best people to deal with such technology,” he said.
Mugisha said BDF is willing to support start-ups in agribusiness by providing them with credit guarantee. He said the Fund also supports young farmers to acquire appropriate storage facilities and in transportation of their produce up to the agro-processing stage.
“The Fund provides 75 per cent of the capital but many fresh graduates have complained that 25 per cent is still a burden to them. We advise them to join hands in cooperatives and this will reduce the risks,” Mugisha said.
Generally, banks are reluctant to extend credit to farmers because of the high risks involved, but the interest rates also remain prohibitive, particularly for modest farmers.
Farmers have been advocating for the establishment of a special financial institution for agriculture but government says its instead working on a plan to create a cooperative bank which would help bridge the existing gaps.