Evaste Nyiramugisha has defied the odds and taken advantage of her terrain to earn a living and provide for her extended family.
Nyiramugisha hails from the mountainous region of the Northern Rwanda and lives in the fertile highlands of Burera district close to the famous Virunga volcanoes.
Before her retirement, the mother of seven and a grandmother of four would cultivate sorghum, beans, white-fleshed sweetpotato and various types of vegetables in her small piece of land to supplement her income. After she retired from her teaching job in 2005, Nyamugisha became a role model agriculturalist in her village.
What makes this 67-year-old stand out is that she is a self-starter. In 2014, she listened to an agricultural programme on the radio, in which farmers were sharing testimonies on their experiences growing orange-fleshed sweetpotatoes (OFSP). Her curiosity was piqued by this information and she sought to find out the details of OFSP farming from a professional agronomist.
Fortunately for her, a year later, USAID Rwanda’s ‘Feed the Future’ rolled out an income and nutrition activity under the OFSP project. Nyiramugisha’s household was selected among others with children under five years of age. These households were targeted by the project due to the high risk of deficiency in Vitamin A, which is richly available in these OFSP varieties.
“I live with two grandchildren and this enabled me receive the initial five kilograms of OFSP planting material. After my first harvest, I notice a huge difference in yields compared to the usual produce. That’s why I decided to multiply the vines to have enough planting material for a bigger land,” she narrates.
This new realization also motivated her to convince a community farmers’ group of which she is president to exploit the OFSP farming. The group that had previously put all their efforts in vegetable farming took a new turn. For the first time, ever, the members planted orange-fleshed sweetpotatoes.
Today, the group has put their trust in their leader’s initiative to farm OFSP vines and roots at a large scale. Their first harvest was massive, earning them a sale of up to 117,000 Rwf ($140) for the roots and 163,000 Rwf ($196) for the vines. The growing season earned them a total of 280,000 Rwf ($336) on land which used to give them approximatively 40,000 Rwf ($50) from vegetables.
Nyiramugisha’s farmers’ group is composed of 31 members, among them 18 women. These farmers share the vison of making higher profits out of OFSP farming and sensitizing neighboring communities about the nutritious and economic benefits of the crop.
“We used our first returns to buy farming equipment and to pay everyone’s public health insurance. We divided the rest amongst ourselves to motivate our spouses who do not participate in our daily activities. Obviously, this business secures my retirement needs and I have the courage to continually run it for the rest of my days,” states Nyiramugisha.
The group is now growing six varieties of orange-fleshed sweetpotatoes on 22 Acres leased from the government