Diversity is key in agriculture sector

Editor,

RE: “Economy grows by 5.2% in third quarter of 2016” (The New Times, January 4).

I always keep going back to the figures of the agriculture sector in Rwanda and it always gives me sleepless nights—for a sector that contributes 33% of GDP we sure need to put in some more efforts into it.

We cannot and should not keep relying on coffee and tea as the major agricultural exports in 2017. We need to diversify the export sector to avoid the risk exposure to international price fluctuations, in order to cover the reported 13% drop in exports.

I keep wishing there would be strong linkages between the National Agriculture Export promotion Board (NAEB), National Institute of Statistics in Rwanda (NISR) and BNR—not just on paper, but in terms of policy and implementation governing and driving certain sectors.

BNR would be interested in increased earnings from exports (foreign exchange, balance of payments, diversified sources of income) and would avoid reliance on only two major exports that have high exposure to price fluctuations.

NISR always reports inflation rising due to an increase in food prices (and associated drought)—but what have we done to reduce this? The level of investment in mechanization is still very low (an area banks, including BRD, are not interested in investing into).

Meanwhile in other countries, people are growing food in the desert; we still face the challenge of food production and price fluctuation due to lack of rainfall. Investing in irrigation equipment or working with the smart kids in TVET colleges to come up with innovative solutions can help.

NAEB also needs to intensify its activities in expansion of the export sector and engage more farmers, international buyers and youth to engage in high value production, mechanized farming, irrigation, market linkages.

Yes, they do this but the scale to which it’s done is really low. NAEB would do better at information provision as well, either through detailed newsletters or on the website.

There is a lot of potential in the agriculture sector, but the day we all begin looking at it as a business (same way we look at Quartier Mateus products) then maybe then can we see the benefit of the sector to the economy.

Lastly between Rwanda Agriculture Board and BNR, an intensive program has to be carried out towards import substitution. Why are we still importing fish, tomatoes and mangoes from neighboring countries? Why are we sending out hard currency for things we can produce locally with our many lakes and fertile land?

Please check the import figures for 2016 and you will be shocked at how much we pay for only fish and mangoes annually. In the meantime, we have not seen consistent efforts towards promotion of cage fish farming, production of fish feeds locally etc.

If we are to achieve these, there has to be cohesion and similar objectives between the government agencies to increase exports, reduce agricultural imports, increase youth employment in agriculture and improved market linkages (for example we don’t have simple things as apps that link markets and producers to cut out the role of middle men).

Some of these will be covered by the private sector, but some need policy push.

I might be wrong in my analysis (I stand to be corrected), but from my daily life as a farmer and economist, I feel we can do better to grow the agricultural sector to compete favorably.

John Junior