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The Story of Rucibiraro Theresphore: a Farmer’s Inspiring Journey Out of Absolute Poverty


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Janvier Gasasira, project coordinator of an IFAD-supported project in Rwanda, shared this story at the Second Global AgriKnowledge Share Fair IFAD, Rome, 26-29 September 2011.

Rucibiraro Theresphore, 49, received a cow from an IFAD project in Rwanda in 2007. Saving his earnings and opening a bank account, he was eventually able to purchase 2,500 chickens and another piece of land. Earlier this year he received the ‘best farmer’ award at the National Agriculture Show. Over the past four years, each of six neighbours received a cow from him through the project’s revolving fund – perhaps one of them will be the next ‘best farmer’.

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The Story of Rucibiraro Theresphore: a Farmer’s Inspiring Journey Out of Absolute Poverty

  1. 1. THE STORY OF RUCIBIRARO THERESPHORE A Farmer’s Inspiring Journey Out of Absolute PovertyFrom a Humble Beginning to a NationalSuccess StoryRucibiraro Theresphore works hard but livescomfortably with his family on a small farm inCyinama Village. Located in the MugungaSector of Gakenke District in the NorthernProvince of Rwanda, reaching Cyinama fromthe closest paved highway involves an hour-long drive up mountains, ascending some ofthe steepest and roughest dirt roads in thecountry. However, while Cyinama is remote, itcertainly is not deserted. Rwanda is one of themost densely populated countries in Africa,and with 90% of the country living in rural areas and depending on smallholder subsistenceagriculture1, even isolated mountaintop villages like Cyinama are densely packed with farmerssurviving on small parcels of land. Life is a challenge for farmers living in Cyinama. Most farmers in the village spend their time cultivating crops on their land, growing most of the food they eat. Occasionally, farmers sell surplus crops at small local markets, which are located a long walk halfway down the mountain. The mountaintop village has no access to running water, with the closest natural water sources far down the mountain in the valleys below. There are no electrical lines in Cyinamaeither, and the only available source of electricity comes from heavy batteries purchased in themarket and carried back up the mountain. Transportation is limited too. Each day, only two smallbuses leave the village in the morning and afternoon. The buses go to Musanze, the closest city,which is still more than an hour away.
  2. 2. While merely surviving sounds like a challenge in a place like Cyinama, it comes as a pleasantsurprise that Rucibiraro Theresphore’s farm is thriving. The 49 year old farmer has two hectaresof land which produce bountiful harvests of maize and beans. He has two dairy cows, four sheep,a pig, and several chickens. While the average income in Rwanda is 45 USD a month2,Rucibiraro often sees a monthly income of 250 USD from what his farm produces. His wife andfour children are happy and healthy, with all four children attending school and reaching the topof their classes with high marks. Two years ago, Rucibiraro was able to purchase a motorcycle,which he uses to get to his job at a local bank as well as to transport his crops to market. Theother farmers in Cyinama are also doing surprisingly well, due in part to learning from thesuccesses of their neighbor Rucibiraro. Rucibiraro is clearly a successful and talented farmer. In June of this year, the Rwanda Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI) even named Rucibiraro Theresphore the 2011 Rwanda Farmer of the Year at the ministry’s Sixth Annual National Agriculture Show. What is even more astonishing about Rucibiraro’s success is that a mere 13 years ago, Rucibiraro was living in a refugee camp in the Congo after fleeing from civil war and genocide in Rwanda. After living for two years in a refugee camp, he returned back hometo Rwanda with almost nothing. Through a combination of talent, hard work, and technical andmaterial assistance from MINAGRI’s Support Project for the Strategic Transformation ofAgriculture (PAPSTA), Rucibiraro has not only climbed out of poverty, but he has helped hisneighbors in Cyinama improve their lives as well.A Journey of ProgressBefore the genocide, Rucibiraro was a modest chicken farmer who owned 100 chickens. Whenhe fled Rwanda during the conflict, his farm was looted, and all of his chickens were lost. In1996, he returned back home to an empty farm in Rwanda. Despite almost no assets, he managedto save up 1,500 Rwandan francs, which he used to purchase a baby pig. After raising the pig,Rucibiraro sold it and used the profits to purchase chickens from one up to 250. Using his
  3. 3. previous knowledge as a chicken farmer, Rucibiraro soon began to see profits from the sale ofhis chickens and eggs in neighboring Musanze District.The PAPSTA program, funded with an International Fund for Agricultural Development loanand implemented by MINAGRI, began in selected zones across Rwanda in 2006. The programtakes a multifaceted approach to shifting prevailing subsistence agriculture towards market-basedfarming in order to alleviate rural poverty. The program soon became active in Rucibiraro’ssector of Mugunga, and Rucibiraro was quick to take advantage of the technical assistance andmodest material benefits PAPSTA could provide farmers.A small amount of technical assistance from PAPSTA led to dramatic improvements in incomesand living conditions for Rucibiraro’s family and the other farmers in Cyinama Village.Technicians from PAPSTA taught the villagers new innovations like how to collect rainwater forhousehold use and farming, how to plant drought-resistant kitchen gardens, how to turn livestockmanure into fertilizer and biogas to power lights and stoves, how to save and manage loan andhow to rotate crops to maximize soil fertility. In 2007, PAPSTA began distributing cows tofarmers in Cyinama as part of the “One Cow Per Poor Family” project. Rucibiraro and otherfarmers in the village received cows through the project, and immediately began to benefit fromthe cows’ milk and manure. The following sections describe in detail the many innovationsintroduced by PAPSTA that have enabled Rucibiraro and his fellow farmers to overcomepoverty with combination of hard work, improved technical knowledge, and minimal materialdistribution.Thanks to training received through PAPSTA and through a combination of his farm and non-farm income, he had saved up enough money to purchase his first hectare of farmland. He soonbecame successful farming this land, and realized he could be even more productive andprofitable with more land to farm. With this in mind, Rucibiraro managed to purchase additionalfarmland adjacent to his existing hectare of land, but he unfortunately did not have enoughmoney. However, because of his increasing assets, income, and productivity, a bank approvedRucibiraro for a loan of 700,000 Rwandan francs, and Rucibiraro was able to purchase hissecond hectare of farm land using this credit.Rainwater CollectionAccess to clean drinking water is a daily requirement no matter where one lives. Getting waterevery day is a particular challenge for mountaintop villages in rural Rwanda that do not haveaccess to running water. Women and children often walk kilometers down mountains to fetchwater from natural sources in the valleys below, hauling water back up to their homes in plasticjugs. The PAPSTA program introduced two types of rainwater harvesting techniques to farmers
  4. 4. that eliminated the need to make daily trips to fetchwater, enabling households to have convenient andreliable access to clean water at home.Rucibiraro has successfully employed both types ofrainwater collection on his farm. The first takesadvantage of the fact that almost all homes in ruralRwanda have metal roofs and gutters. Technicians fromPAPSTA taught Rucibiraro how to construct a waterstorage tank next to his roof, and how to run a gutterfrom his roof to the tank. Whenever it rains in Cyinama,rainwater from Rucibiraro’s roof flows into his storagetank. Instead of walking down the mountain every day tofetch drinking water, Rucibiraro’s family can simply turn the spigot on the rainwater storage tank in their backyard. The second type of rainwater collection involves constructing collection ponds by digging large pits and lining them with plastic sheeting. Rucibiraro’s collection pond is about 10 meters square and five meters deep. He uses the water this pond collects to water his crops during periods without enough rain. Rucibiraro’s neighbors have also benefitted from his success since his well-constructed systems provide good examples for them to copy, and Rucibiraro has helped his neighbors design systems of their own.Kitchen GardensThe PAPSTA program also introduced the concept ofkitchen gardens to local farmers. These small gardensgrow a variety of drought-resistant vegetables thatimprove food security and decrease malnutritionamong subsistence farms, as well as provide an incomesource of vegetables and seeds to sell at the market.Rucibiraro set up two kitchen gardens shortly afterlearning about the concept from PAPSTA technicians,and he even helped his neighbor across the street
  5. 5. design a kitchen garden of his own.Distribution of LivestockAfter a prolonged period of civil war, genocide, and population displacement, most Rwandanfarmers lost their livestock. The PAPSTA program is successfully alleviating poverty andrebuilding rural economies by distributing cows to poor farmers. Rucibiraro received a cowthrough PAPSTA in 2007, and his family immediately began to benefit from householdconsumption and sale of the milk, and the use of the cow dung as fertilizer to increase cropyields. Through the PAPSTA program, he kept his cow healthy by learning how to construct asturdy shed for the cow, and also by learning what types of food to feed the cow. He evenlearned the benefits of feeding his cow supplements to increase milk production, and theimportance of giving his cow proper vaccinations and veterinary care to keep it healthy.The PAPSTA program also set up anartificial insemination program for the cowsof local farmers, and Rucibiraro’s cow soongave birth to a calf. As part of the conditionsfor receiving a cow through PAPSTA, whena farmer’s cow has its first calf, the farmer isobligated to give this calf to a neighbor as agift. This system is called the “pass on thegift” system, and has succeeded in bothstrengthening community ties throughreciprocity while also speeding up thereproduction and distribution of cows, whichare life-changing assets to impoverished subsistence farmers. Since receiving his first cow fouryears ago, Rucibiraro has already passed on six calves to his neighbors. While he has had asmany as four cows at once, he is happy with the two cows he has now.The PAPSTA program is also currently coordinating with local authorities and a dairy farmingcooperative in the area to set up a modern milk collection center near Cyinama. Financed jointlyby PAPSTA and private funds raised by the cooperative, the facility will increase market accessto smallholder dairy farmers in the remote mountain community. Once the facility is operational,demand for and profit from the milk of Cyinama dairy farmers will go up, increasing theincomes of Rucibiraro and his neighbors who also produce milk.
  6. 6. Biogas and Fertilizer Production Shortly after dairy farming became re-established in Cyinama through the distribution of cows, PAPSTA technicians taught Rucibiraro and other local farmers how to produce biogas and fertilizer from cow manure. Using a design he learned from PAPSTA, Rucibiraro constructed a biogas production system next to his cattle sheds. The system consists of an enclosed subterranean storage tank into which Rucibiraro can pour a mixture of cow manure and water. After the mixture sits for a week, methane gas from the decomposing manure starts to collect at the top of the tank. A small pipe runs from the underground tank into Rucibiraro’s kitchen, where the methane can then be used to power a gas lamp and his family’s cooking stove. This sustainable and environmentally friendly biogas system means that Rucibiraro no longer has to carry a heavy metal gas tank into town and pay for gas to cook in his kitchen.After all of the methane has gassed out of the mixture, Rucibiraro removes the mixture from thetank. He then places the mixture into large pits behind his cattle sheds, adding dried husks fromhis maize and other organic plant waste to the mix. After the mixture composts, it turns into goodfertilizer for his fields. He learned how to do this from PAPSTA technicians, and the fertilizerhas created noticeable improvements to his yields.Crop RotationRucibiraro also learned the importance of crop rotation from PAPSTA technicians. As a formerchicken farmer, he didn’t have a lot of experience with growing crops, but PAPSTA taught himand his fellow villagers the best methods for sustainably farming their land. As part of newagricultural policies for the nation, farmers in a region are instructed which crops to plant duringeach season. In Rucibiraro’s region, farmers are encouraged to rotate between maize and beans.With two rainy seasons a year, Rucibiraro will plant maize in both of his hectares during oneseason, switching to beans during the next. This is particularly important for sustainable farming,because beans are a nitrogen-fixing crop. After beans are harvested, their roots decompose andadd nutrients back to the soil, enabling higher yields for the next season’s maize crop.
  7. 7. The Mechanization of Agriculture in CyinamaWhen Rucibiraro Theresphorewas recognized by MINAGRIas the Rwanda Farmer of theYear in June 2011, MINAGRIawarded him with a prize of agas-powered tilling machine toplow his fields. Usingtraditional hand methods ofworking a field, it takes 10people five days to prepareone hectare for planting. Usingthe tiller Rucibiraro now has,he can plow one hectare by himself in one hour, using only one liter of fuel. The tiller is the firstof its kind in Cyinama, where traditional farming with hand tools is still the norm. The time andlabor savings the mechanized tiller provides are impressive.The new tiller has also created a number of other unexpected benefits for Rucibiraro’s familyand the entire village. Not only does Rucibiraro use the tiller to work his own land, but he canloan or rent the tiller out to his neighbors to increase their productivity. In fact, he has alreadytaught three other men in the village how to use his tiller, helping to build the local technicalknowledge capacity required to carry out Rwanda’s national strategy of increasing the beneficialuse of mechanization in agriculture. Additionally, Rucibiraro purchased a maize mill after winning the tiller. The mill can be powered by drive belts from the tiller, and Rucibiraro can now grind maize kernels into maize flour. By processing his own maize into flour instead of selling the whole kernels or paying someone in town to grind the maize for him, Rucibiraro has moved further up the value chain with his maize farming. He can now sell his processed maize flour for a larger profit than he could get selling his unprocessed maize kernels. As the only one in the village with a maize mill, Rucibiraro is now positioned to further increase his income by charging his neighbors for milling services. At the same time, he will be helping his neighbors increase their own incomes by allowing them to sell their maize in a more profitable
  8. 8. processed form.The impact of the tiller on Rucibiraro’s family and Cyinama does not stop here. Using the gasengine from the tiller, Rucibiraro is able to charge the large battery used to start the tiller’sengine. Instead of going into town to purchase charged batteries to provide electricity for hishome, he can now charge his own batteries. With a cheaper and less time-consuming way ofgetting electricity, Rucibiraro is now able to regularly power his family’s television along withlights at night. His children can study later into the evening with the lights, and are doing betterat school. Constantly seeking self-improvement, Rucibiraro is also using his television to watch educational programs produced by the Rwanda Development Board to teach himself English. His children are also learning English this way, and he often invites children from the entire village to come to his house to use his television and learn English. Providing his family with electricity has now become so easy that Rucibiraro even shares his electricity with his neighbor. He has run electrical linesfrom the battery in his house out of his roof and over the road into his neighbor’s home, wherehis neighbor uses the electricity to power his own light at night. Here again, we see anotherexample of the entire village benefitting from Rucibiraro’s talent, hard work, and good fortune.A Replicable Success StoryThe story of Rucibiraro Theresphore’sjourney from absolute poverty to becomingthe richest farmer in his village and the2011 Rwanda Farmer of the Year is trulyinspirational. Without a doubt, Rucibiraro isa uniquely talented man who has workedhard to pull himself out of poverty with aminimal amount of assistance. However,while Rucibiraro’s achievements have beenremarkable in their scale, the methods heused to consistently improve his family’ssituation are quite simple and attainable forany other smallholder farmer in Rwanda. Indeed, millions of other farmers in Rwanda are
  9. 9. pursuing similar methods as Rucibiraro to improve living conditions, increase yields, and raiseincomes.If the story of Rucibiraro Theresphore is replicable by others through simple methods, this meansthat the eventual eradication of all rural poverty in Rwanda is possible as well. The followinglessons can be learned from his story: Diversification of household income into farm and non-farm sources can provide a significant boost to overall on-farm success, as Rucibiraro’s job at a local bank provided him with wages that he invested into making his farm more profitable Availability of banking services and credit are vital in enabling smallholders to improve their landholdings. While Rucibiraro was successfully farming his first hectare of land, he was still unable to purchase a second hectare without access to a bank loan. Significant improvements can be made to living conditions by giving smallholders technical instruction on innovations that do not require much in material resources. Rainwater collection, kitchen gardens, and biogas production are all simple concepts that contribute to improved health, increased income, and a decrease in household costs in terms of time and money spent on basic necessities. The cow solidarity chain has had enormously positive impacts on alleviating rural poverty. The cows provide milk for household consumption, improving nutritional health, and the milk can also be sold to increase incomes. The manure contributes to agricultural sustainability and productivity. The “pass on the gift” system also strengthens communities by encouraging cooperation and mutual benefit. The formation of dairy farmer cooperatives is empowering rural communities and leading to tangible benefits like modern milk collection centers. Mechanization can have tremendous multiplier effects. A single tiller being shared by an entire village is increasing the productivity of everyone. Farmers are learning technical skills that will facilitate further mechanization. The tiller also powers a mill that adds value by grinding maize kernels into more valuable maize flour. The tiller is also used to charge batteries that provide electricity for lights and a television, which are having educational benefits.With all of his success, Rucibiraro remains humble. He is thankful and dedicated to his familyand village. He has worked hard to pull himself up out of poverty, and has also helped to pull hisneighbors up along with him at every step along the way. By working to help each other,Rucibiraro and his neighbors have improved the lives of everyone in the village. With theirdedication and hard work, along with a small amount of technical and material assistance from
  10. 10. PAPSTA and MinAgri, Rucibiraro Theresphore and the rest of Cyinama Village are improvingtheir lives every day, helping each other continue along their journey of progress.Janvier GASASIRA, Project Coordinator of two IFAD funded projects, PAPSTA/KWAMP,RWANDA. 9/23/2011