Enshrined in one of the company’s core visions of empowering communities in which it operates, BRALIRWA Ltd a member of the Heineken Group is steadily pushing forward its agenda of increased local sourcing of its raw-materials.
Four years ago, the company in partnership with a local maize milling company MINIMEX established a modern maize farm in Ndego Sector of Kayonza district, BRAMIN Maize Farm, to contribute to bridging the gap in maize crop supply and by so doing further reduce dependence on imported raw-materials particularly of the maize grits used in beer production.
In addition to its already established beer portfolio that utilizes maize grits among other ingredients, BRALIRWA in November 2016 launched Huza beer which is already gaining popularity in Rwanda and uses maize in its brewing process further increases its use of maize in production. Thanks to the farm’s production combined with local smallholder farmers, maize crops supplied to MINIMEX are covering for over 40% of BRALIRWA’s maize grits demand and according to projections; this rate is slated to increase over the years.
Notwithstanding this contribution to increased supply of maize crops to MINIMEX, BRAMIN maize farm has had tremendous impact in the socioeconomic landscape not only of the region of Kayonza it is located but also in the agricultural sector and the Rwandan economy at large. Speaking with residents of Ndego sector amongst whom more than 200 have benefited employment in the farm, the modern farm has enabled them meet their needs. Nyirandikuryayo Alphonsine a farmer employed in BRAMIN says that the establishment of this farm gave them a sigh of relief.
“Ndego is a very dry area and in most seasons, we often found ourselves producing less than we needed to survive. Many people had already moved to other areas while others fled to Tanzania oftentimes to seek employment to try and meet the needs of their families”.
For employees such as Nyirandikuryayo, BRAMIN offers subsidized crops often on credit. Dusingizimana is another excited farmer who says his monthly salary of over Frw67,000 has enabled him marry and is now able to meet the needs of his family which includes his one year old daughter.
Besides access to food, farmers employed on the farm and hundreds more who are regularly given causal occupations to harvest crops have gained knowledge in better farming techniques and attest that despite the untamable climatic conditions of their area, they are seeing improvements in crop yields within their own fields.
“The biggest lesson I learnt in BRAMIN is line planting for maize and the importance of planting select seeds. These inputs have made my farming more productive and with it improved life at home. As a farmer, the income I receive covers up for our survival during harsh seasons. I now complement my husband in taking care of our family”, Nyirandikuryayo emphasized.
However, BRAMIN’s impact on the lives of Rwandans, the agricultural sector and economy at large far exceeds the lifeline that it is for the 213 farmers it employs.
Speaking to Keith McGaw the farm manager, BRAMIN has among others helped demonstrate the techniques of modern agriculture particularly to entities looking to engage in medium and large scale farming. A private entity established by partnership of two Rwandan companies, BRAMIN establishes a good precedence for private investors willing to invest in the agricultural sector.
“BRAMIN is important as the first large scale private venture in irrigated maize farming in Rwanda,” noted BRALIRWA’s Managing Director, Victor Madiela. “As a key element in BRALIRWA’s local sourcing initiative this is a big step forward for us. And for MINIMEX, securing reliable and quality commodity maize will greatly support the development of their milling business. With the seed growing element added through Seed Co, BRAMIN will partner with the Ministry of Agriculture to support building of Rwanda’s emerging smallholder maize farmers. BRALIRWA is delighted that together with our partners, we have been able to make this important contribution to Rwanda’s progress towards the realization of the Government’s Vision 2020.”
Similarly, MINIMEX Chairman Felicien Mutalikanwa is convinced that the BRAMIN model sets good precedence in private investment in modernized agriculture. “The investment in irrigation infrastructure has helped minimize the inherent risk from climate change and hence allowed for optimum utilization of the right inputs (certified seeds, manure) to obtain maximum productivity from our land”.
For Mutalikanwa, the BRAMIN experience can inspire other entrepreneurs who remain reluctant to invest in agriculture considering the level of risk involved. Also, the MINIMEX proprietor is proudly hopeful that BRAMIN will contribute to reducing Rwanda’s trade deficit through facilitating increased local production of maize products.
The BRAMIN Maize farm is a modern facility that employs high-tech pivot irrigation, compost manuring processes and several other farming techniques such as regular soil sampling and testing to respond to real-time land qualities ensuring high all-year round agricultural productivity.
“Given that Rwanda has small arable land available for the farming community, only modernized farming promises provision of sufficient food produce for the growing Rwandan population,” Keith says.
Thanks to this mix of high-tech methods, BRAMIN has been able to increase production of its lead maize crop per hectare rising to an average productivity of 7.5 tons per hectare compared to the ordinary 2 tons/ha productivity in Rwanda. As such, the 695ha farm is already a big contributor of maize crop yields supplied to MINIMEX and sold as seeds to Rwanda’s farmer community. With MINIMEX, maize is transformed into high quality maize flour for the local market part which forms the national export bulk destined to neighbouring countries.
Also, maize produce is transformed into maize grits supplied to BRALIRWA for use in its brewing processes for some of Rwanda’s most popular beer products.
But only 50% of BRAMIN farm is used for maize farming each farming season with the remaining land used to cultivate more than 16 different vegetable varieties and Irish potatoes. This crop rotation technique is used to ensure sustained soil fertility by avoiding exploitation of a few particular soil minerals by planting a single crop over a long period of time. But other than this scientific benefit, the farm’s diversified vegetable crops have further supported reduction of Rwanda’s import dependence in the agricultural sector.
On yet another frontier of improved farming, BRAMIN Maize Farm continues to demonstrate organic farming techniques that are prerequisite in maintaining high yields while battling the urge for hybridization and excessive use of fertilisers. For instance, all residues from crops produced by the farm are transformed into organic manure using a locally built organic compost treatment system and returned to the farm to facilitate the manuring of the soils.
Besides the contribution that BRAMIN farm is making in the transformation of the agricultural sector, it remains undeniable that unless productivity in smallholder farms increases, the target of breaking the dependence on import food produce will remain far from reach.
To contribute to the Government’s efforts of modernizing farming, a Heineken Group sponsored project tagged “Community Revenue Enhancement through Agricultural Technology Extension (CREATE)” is being implemented in the districts of Kayonza and Rwamagana since 2014 under the guidance of the European Cooperative for Rural Development (EUCORD). The four year project is currently working with 26 cooperatives of maize growers implying over 8,500 individuals.
With the objective of extending modern farming techniques to rural maize farmers and by so doing enhance their incomes and lead to improved living standards, CREATE is already bringing smiles on farmers of all kinds, as they continue to reap big. The project uses two main approaches; demonstration of modern farming techniques through demonstration fields constructed mostly at cell offices, and through farm extension services where agronomists are deployed to support cooperatives and individual farmers in their daily activities. But the Eastern region of Rwanda is an area prone to harsh dry seasons that oftentimes lead to total losses in crop production.
As a result, the BRAMIN irrigation model is now being replicated in smaller units with the farmer cooperatives. Thus thanks to a recently approved partnership between IFC and EROCORD partly co-funded by the CREATE project, three other major activities to facilitate sustainable modernization have been embarked on. The areas of focus are building the management capacities of the cooperatives, establishing small-scale irrigation with 6 different pilots of irrigation technologies being tested by 5 cooperatives on over 38ha of land in Rwamagana.
Also, the late additions targets to support farmers build their knowledge in the area of access to agricultural business financing. According to Ngoga Fabrice, the recent additions are already promising amplified impact on sustained quality and increased productivity.
“Since we have already moved a distance towards building the capacities of local farmers in modern farming techniques, the addition of irrigation, access to finance skills, and management know-how will undoubtedly sustain and serge acquired results to greater levels.” With production increased, a ready market under the project is available for farmers on a buying price always a notch higher than prevailing market prices according to Ngoga.
Through MINIMEX’s sister firm ProDev, farmers on the CREATE project have access to ready market with good prices all year. Thanks to BRAMIN’s impact which ranges from having put land formerly unproductive land to use, its demonstration of the opportunity for private investments in modern farming in Rwanda to the contribution to the bridging of Rwanda’s trade deficit by facilitating increased local production and the increased access to income for many Rwandan farmers whose ability to buy from the market has increased, the promise for making further impact on the socioeconomic welfare of the Rwandan people remains solid.
Read this article and more in issue n° 76 of Hope Magazine.