NOVEMBER 25, 2018 — All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them. Emmanuel Tuyireze, a farmer in Rwanda has put the quote by Walt Disney into practice by dedicating his time, energy and effort into tree tomato farming.
A resident of Musanze District, Northern Rwanda, Emmanuel ventured into tree tomato farming three years ago after spotting the huge potential and opportunity in the crop.
This is based on the fact that Rwanda is a net importer of tomatoes mainly from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi, with the imports coming in to fill the gap in the domestic market where the demand is high.
Tomato is among the popular vegetable produced in Rwanda and it is sold on the domestic market both fresh and in processed form. The domestic demand is also created by the tomato processors.
Emmanuel lost his job after the infamous Rwanda genocide in 1994 and has been depending on small-scale farming. After seeing the opportunity in tomato farming, he never thought twice.
With information and training from the Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB), World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and World Vision Rwanda (WVR) in 2014, he was good to go.
In 2015, he fully threw his weight behind tree tomato farming. He was the first farmer to produce tree tomato in his area.
It takes only one year from planting to harvest so within a short time, Emmanuel was already playing a major role in the market supply chain.
“I saw the high market demand for tomatoes and decided to start my own project,” Emmanuel narrates.
He started off with a 30 by 70 meters piece of land which he later expanded to 60 by 140 metres. Emmanuel who has rented land close to the lake at about US$1 million for three years now has 2.0 hectors, with a total of 10,500 plants.
He harvested 1, 000 kilogrammes in October 2016 which was followed by a 1, 200 kilogrammes harvest in December.
Then, the market average price was about US$578 per kilogramme.
Emmanuel is fully dependent on tree tomato as his main source of income.He earns an average net of US$108,000 per month which has changes his life and economically empowered him.
He has received a lot of support from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).
Since 1982, ACIAR has supported research projects in four regions—eastern and southern Africa, east Asia, south and west Asia, and Papua New Guinea and the Pacific.
An Australian Government statutory authority, its research projects focus on crops, agribusiness, horticulture, forestry, livestock, fisheries, water and climate, social sciences, and soil and land management.
“There is no stop in production as long as there is proper management, application of water and manure,” Emmanuel explains.
With the high demand of the fruit in Rwanda, the crop averages between US$578 and US$361 per kilogramme irrespective of the season. The price can go even higher during dry seasons.
“It can’t go down below US$300,” he notes.
He has had myriad benefits from the crop as he narrates, mainly on his personal (household) life.
According to Emmanuel, he has been able to adequately provide basic needs to his family which include food and clothing.
He has also been able to procure insurance cover which has enabled him have a beautiful and healthy family.
Emmanuel has not hidden the “tomato jackpot” to himself; he has shared knowledge and material with his neighbours.
“After training and seeing the light, I cannot cover it,” he says, that is why he started to shed light on the neighbourhood.
Recently he was able to reach out to 38 members courtesy of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). He has also been in touch with 42 other farmers courtesy of Caritas Rwanda, a Non-Governmental Organization created by the Episcopal Conference of the Catholic Church of Rwanda.
Another group of 24 farmers in Bugesera district in Eastern Province of Rwanda have also benefited from his insight on tree tomato farming. From his records, he has reached 300 farmers.
He shares both information and material from his farm. Some farmers pick both skills and seedlings as input for their farms.
Farmers in the area including Emmanuel face a number of challenges which have affected them from time to time, hampering production. They include long dry periods. To counter this, farmers have been keen to harvest rain water though majority lack the necessary tools and capacity.
Inputs such as organic manure, pests and diseases are also a challenge.
Another challenge is post-harvest losses which according to the country’s data, farmers are losing on average 21 per cent of their crop during harvest.
At the collection point, another 11.5 per cent of tomatoes are lost. Another loss is at the wholesale level where 10 per cent of tomatoes are culled out. At the retail level 13.6 per cent of the fruits are discarded.
This calls for an integrated solution to mitigate losses across the value chain. To reduce postharvest losses, farmers and traders need to be educated on harvesting practices and postharvest handling and storage.
There is also need for including farmers in the value addition processes to enable them reap maximum benefits.
“We need to create awareness to other farmers as well as support them in establishing individual nursery,” Emmanuel added.
He continues to invest in the crop with a focus on meeting the local demand apart from supplying to other markets which include the capital-Kigali.
He sales his produce at between US$578 and US$651 per kilogramme in the city (Kigali) and US$361 per kilogramme locally. However, the prices can go as high as US$578 per kilogramme at the local market during dry seasons.
He spends at least US$500 on pump water during dry periods.
Due to increasing demand from other farmers interested in the crop’s farming, Emmanuel has increased seedling production.
He harvests at least 500 kilogrammes during the dry season and about 900 kilogrammes on normal season. In November last year, he managed to harvest 1, 200 kilogrammes.
He has orders from Kigali which he says he cannot meet alone hence he involves other farmers in his area where together, they are able to meet the demand.
“I was recently asked to supply three tonnes a month which I have brought on board other farmers so that we can all benefit,” Emmanuel explains, adding that he is always ready and willing to sensitized and support those interested in tree tomato farming.
Emmanuel and his likes remain key to the country’s development where agriculture is a key component of Rwanda’s economy, and is crucial to the growth of the country and its poverty reduction efforts.
According to data from the World Bank, agriculture is the main support of the economy, accounting for 39 per per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Production, 80 per cent of employment and 63 per cent of foreign exchange earnings.
Areas that grow tomatoes in the country include; Bugesera,Rwamagana,Kayonza,Rusizi,Nyagatare,Gatsiro,Burera,Musanze,Nyaza,Nyamasheke and Huye.
The production is primarily in open field and therefore bound by seasonality. Typically, tomatoes are produced during three seasons each year, while four seasons of production is possible with irrigation.
A Baseline Survey of Horticulture Organizations in Rwanda (EU 2015) determined that approximately 240,000 households are estimated to be involved in normal tomato production, though approximately 30 per per cent of all production is destined for home consumption. Most Farmers are small-scale independent farmers or cooperatives.
To Emmanuel, tree tomato has become a way of life and he smiles to the bank at the end of every season.