As a young girl, Annita Mutoni always knew that she wanted to farm. She would spend her days watching her late father, Butera Anthony Mutoni, spend hours in the field. And while many perceived farming to be laborious work, she believed differently. Witnessing her father’s passion and love for the land, it was hard for the Rwandan poultry farmer not to be bitten by the agriculture bug.
“I have always loved farming. I was inspired by my father and I used to watch him, how passionate he was about farming and growing up in such an environment, I knew I would do it,” she explains excitedly about where her passions for agriculture arose.
The 26-year-old is the founder of Beyond Health Farms Ltd., a poultry farm housed on four hectares of land in Gahanga, in the Kicukiro district of Kigali.
Mutoni produces both eggs and broiler chickens that are sold at wholesalers in the Rwandan capital. Like many farmers globally, Covid-19 threatened to bring her business to a halt. But since global restrictions have eased, the demand for poultry meat products has hit an upward curve, she says.
“At the moment, I am only doing eggs, we produce meat on demand. When there is a market for the meat, I bring in the broilers. I sell from at least 50 trays and above.
“When Covid kicked in, most of the hotels, restaurants and supermarkets were closed so the demand dropped. That is why most of the broiler farmers put it on hold, but there is a market now.”
A leap of faith unlocks reward
Her road to farming took many twists and turns. Mutoni studied human resource management at Mount Kenya University and worked towards a comfy office job. She had worked as a banker at the Banque Populaire du Rwanda and later at an advertising and marketing agency in Kigali.
The lack of excitement in the corporate sector, however, became Mutoni’s paradigm shift towards farming. “At this point when you have worked in an organisation for three or four years and doing the same thing, you need challenges, you need something new, and I wanted that to be something that I really loved. And I thought, why don’t I venture into this as well, why don’t I try it?”
In 2018, she took her leap of faith into agriculture. “I thought, if I don’t do it now, then I never will,” she chuckles.
Her decision raised a few eyebrows in conservative Rwanda, she says. “Farming in general was always a field for men or retired people. It was not something that people would want to do, yet it is so interesting and challenging and fun to do.”
Get help and follow your heart
Mutoni opted for poultry as this was a sector she was familiar due to her late father’s influence.
“My dad had a hatchery business. He would sell day-old chicks and he used to educate us on the poultry sector.”
She firmly advises aspiring farmers that it would be in their best interests to seek mentorship before they follow agricultural pursuits.
“You join a business when you know what you are getting yourself into. They [mentors] will show you everything. My mentors would take me to different farms to make sure that I knew exactly what was going on and being done. Mentorship is like school or training, but also life training to build and grow your farm.
“Try to meet different people in the same sector. Network, meet other entrepreneurs, pick all of their brains. It will help you to learn a trick or two on how to start your business. Surround yourself with people who are doing the same thing as you, get the right mentors,” she explains.
Mutoni’s agricultural dreams do not begin and end with the production of chickens for meat and eggs. Her business is modelled on a vision to spread its wings far and wide across the agricultural value chain and even includes plans for veterinary services.
“It is a long-term plan that I have. I want to offer veterinary services, not only for poultry but also for other animals in the value chain, including cattle and piggeries and I want to grow my own feed,” she says, sharing her vision.
Live beyond limitations
To farm, you are going to need to step into the unknown, she says, especially if you are a black female farmer. She tells FoodForAfrika.com that many had questioned and even doubted her decision to farm.
“[As women] we feel limited. Farming was seen as a field for men or old people, so any young female farmer who wants to join this industry is met with raised eyebrows and asked ‘are you really going to do it?’, and told that it is a dirty business for women.”
Another challenge in encouraging women to farm includes the perception that farming is expensive, she adds.
“When I was starting out, I talked to different people and some were encouraging and some not so much. You need funding, but funding is not always money. Farmers also need training, and when we get the right training, we do better.”
Shut the naysayers down and just go for it, she recommends.
“If you have the idea and if you are passionate about it, just go for it. You have to have passion for it because farming is not something to play with. Farming requires a lot of hard work and you have to stay focused. So if you love it, go for it.”