The Agriculture Minister, declared on World Food Day that the country was “food secure”. I will not go toe to toe with the Honourable Minister on this fact, although I believe that calling Rwanda ‘food secure’ right now is stretching the truth a bit too much.
When I think of food security I don’t envision a situation where one harvest is assured but rather a situation where two, or even three years, of drought will not affect either average national calorie intake or food prices.
When I was in high school, and that was quite a while back I must say, I studied economics as a subject. One of the most interesting sections of the subject was the concept of the ‘buffer stock’.
If I’m not wrong, the buffer stock was a commodity storage facility for economic stabilization.
Specifically, commodities are bought and stored when there is a surplus and they are sold from these stores when there are shortages in the economy.
The common sense in this approach, where you keep the excess fruits of the harvest for the bad days that would surely come, isn’t exactly rocket science.
In fact, it’s an approach that is thousands of years old-the first book of Moses, Genesis, shows how Joseph, son of Jacob saved millions by saving for seven years and surviving a seven year famine. While this might seem like common sense, whenever I travel to rural Rwanda for one of my jaunts, I can go for hours without seeing a single granary.
Now, it’s easy to blame the farmers for not having granaries. We can call them ‘primitive and short-sighted, but I think there is a bigger problem than just the lack of granaries to put their stock in.
First of all, you need something to put in the granaries you build. Sadly, the majority of our farmers practice subsistence agriculture.
Meaning that they barely produce enough to eat- so forget about keeping a surplus because there isn’t one in the first place.
The agriculture ministry is doing the right thing insofar as providing fertilizers and improved seed varieties are concerned. I’m only worried that the entire process of providing these inputs isn’t going on fast enough.
With climate change slowly but surely manifesting, a piecemeal attitude to forcing a Green Revolution in Rwanda will not do.
When I travel, I see lovingly manicured gardens, tended by hardworking peasants using hoes. And that is another one of the problems I foresee before we can even talk about food security.
Even if farmers have improved seeds and a bit of chemical fertilizer, it will all come to nought if they don’t change their methods of agriculture.
Using a hand hoe on a tiny plot of land, even if you have all the latest seeds and fertilizers, will simply not do. That is of course if we expect to get most of the nation’s food from these small scale farmers.
What I’m taking about is land consolidation, by force if necessary. Our farms simply must become bigger if we are to be food secure.
Only when land consolidation and improved farming techniques have become the norm shall we ever see a national food surplus. And only then shall I agitate for a buffer stock.
The author is an editor with The New times