When you are forced to start all over and rebuild from scratch, do not panic and look at it as punishment, says Burundi-born farmer, Prosper Kaze.
When former Burundi president, Pierre Nkurunziza, announced his plans to seek a third term in 2015, political unrest in Burundi took a deadly turn. As street protests turned to violent clashes, many fled – including Prosper Kaze.
“Burundi had some big political problems, I didn’t feel comfortable being in a country where I did not feel safe,” he says.
Kaze left behind a thriving logistical business when he turned his sights 250km away from Burundi to Rwanda for safety. It took him three years to set up shop on 20 hectares of land in the Gasabo district of Kigali.
Prosper is the proud owner of Rugende Modern Farming, a farming business that produces high-end crops including chill cherry tomatoes and sweet peppers in Rwanda.
From facing great uncertainty in his native land, this sharp-witted farmer says that picking up the pieces was not easy.
“I somehow managed to strike a deal with somebody who has got land and we partnered. I had a little bit of money, got a little land and we started the business.”
Money is the greatest motivator
In Rwanda, farming is an important source of income and employs majority of the state’s population. Money became his greatest motivator, he admits. “I am driven by money.”
He tells FoodForAfrika.com, “I kept hearing stories of people who were successful in agriculture. I was in these WhatsApp groups where stories would fly around of millionaires from tomatoes and millionaires from chillies. I was interested and started digging in some more and doing more research.”
Armed with determination and capital, Kaze formed a partnership with a Rwandan landowner and started farming in 2018. “Partnering is good too, 50% is better than zero percent,” says Kaze, while speaking to us in Rwanda.
“I went for high-value crops because I wanted to make money. That was my first intention. You would sell generic tomatoes at half a dollar per kilo, so it made sense to go for higher products which are in demand.”
Business his passion at a young age
Kaze first dipped his toe in the business pool while he was a student at the Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. “My first business was a taxi business – that was way back when I was still a student.
“I vowed when I was still at campus, not to work for anybody. I needed to work for myself, and I think I will keep it that way.”
After he graduated, he then started a travelling agency in Burundi and then later a logistics business. “I owned a FedEx franchise up until I left Burundi in 2015.”
When he started the Rugende Modern Farm in 2018, he found that it was strategically located close to a stream that supplies sufficient water to the farm.
This does not mean that he is not at Mother Nature’s mercy.
“Weather is a challenge faced by every farmer. Whether you go into greenhouse production or if you are going outdoors, invest in your irrigation equipment if God is not kind enough to send you rain. You need to get water from somewhere because you need water in this business.”
“It is challenging but it can be profitable if you use the right methods, follow good agricultural practice, do everything by the book. God-willing the sky is also a friend, God sends you some rain.”
The future looks prosperous
Currently Kaze grows produce in four greenhouses. “I want to do agriculture in a modern way in greenhouses, where you do not have to wait for the rain. You can control the environment in the greenhouse so you can farm all year round without waiting for rain, sunshine, and rot.”
He sells his harvests to high end supermarkets, restaurants, and the Rwandan national airline, RwandAir.
“If you have flown on Rwandair, the salad they give you include my cherry tomatoes, tomatoes and my sweet peppers,” he says.
Go big, or go home
Farming is an industry with a lot of uncertainty. Funding, especially, is tricky to access. “Funding is a bit tough; I am from Burundi. Funding is a problem when you go to the banks, and you do not have collateral and my collateral is in Burundi.”
Financial challenges can be your greatest stumbling block in the sector. He makes an example where he needed funding to buy a tractor. “Mechanisation and tractors cost a lot of money.”
He overcame this challenge by leasing a tractor instead. “If you cannot afford a fifty-thousand-dollar tractor then you need to hire it for three or four days and you pay the small amount compared to leasing it or buying it.”
If you are thinking of farming, then do it with intention. It is either you go big or go home, he advises.
“If your intention is to grow big, you need big money,” he says. “Go for it. Go for it, start small and grow.
“Start small, make sure you understand what you are doing when you start small, then grow from there. Whatever money you get in, plow it back into the business, if you started with hectare, go for two, once you reach two, go for three.”