Laurent Mushingwamana uprooted all of his old banana trees and replaced them with new suckers. His neighbour, Mathias Ndikunkiko, could not believe his eyes. Mr. Ndikunkiko recalls: “When I saw him uproot all his trees, I thought he had gone mad. I asked myself, ‘How could he replace the plants which have fed us since our childhood?’”
Laurent Mushingwamana is the chief of Gitovu, a village in Karongi District, in the Western province of Rwanda. Bananas are the main crop in the region and Mr. Mushingwamana is considered a model farmer.
Mr. Mushingwamana explains how he began the process of improving his bananas. In 2006, Rwanda implemented a new policy of “agricultural regionalization” that encouraged farmers to specialize in crops that were most suitable to their climatic regions. Mr. Mushingwamana says: “I used to cultivate bananas traditionally, like the others. Then one day we had a meeting with other administrative authorities. We were asked to be the pioneers in developing our respective communities.”
Bananas were one of the crops chosen for Karongi District. Mr. Mushingwamana also grows beans and potatoes but chose to make bananas his main crop. In 2009, he decided to learn as much as he could about bananas. He recalls: “I went to nearby Rubengera to visit an Anglican church that grows bananas. This church is also a banana plant multiplication centre. I learned how and why I could improve my farming.”
Mr. Mushingwamana remained at the centre for a week. He returned home with planting materials for a new variety called FIYA. It was the increase in yield that quickly convinced his neighbours to follow his lead. Mr. Ndikunkiko, the neighbour who thought Mr. Mushingwamana was crazy for uprooting his bananas, says, “When I saw his yields, I immediately uprooted my own bananas.”
According to Mr. Mushingwamana, the new variety produces bunches of bananas that weigh a minimum of 80 kilograms. He says: “The largest bunches from the traditional variety only weighed between 20 and 30 kilograms. Each banana plant now earns me between 8,000 and 10,000 Rwandan francs [$11.50-14.50 U.S.].” Bunches from the traditional variety earned him barely 2,000 francs [$2.90 U.S.].
Mr. Mushingwamana is still leading by example. Agricultural extension officers regularly invite him to share his experiences with farmers from other villages. He shares his secrets with them, such as how to properly maintain plants and how best to apply manure.
In recognition of his efforts, Mr. Mushingwamana was presented with a cow by Karongi’s mayor. But his journey is far from over. He says, “I have just set up a banana farmers’ co-operative, which we’ll use to spread the best practices in banana production widely.”