Strategic reserves helped Rwanda to provide food for about 100,000 households who were affected by drought which reduced agriculture and livestock productivity in some parts of the country last year, the Minister for Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI), Dr Gerardine Mukeshimana, has said.
The minister was speaking to journalists last week while commenting on the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)’s latest Crop Prospects and Food Situation report.
Mukeshimana said strategic reserves are very essential once agriculture production is good.
She encouraged Rwandans to embrace food stocking for use during hard times like drought instead of priotising sales.
The FAO publication estimates that 39 countries, including 28 in Africa, are in need of external assistance for food, six more than the corresponding period in 2015.
It revealed that continued conflicts and weather‑related shocks were the main causes of intensified food insecurity in 2016.
As per the FAO report, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in the sub-region is estimated at 21.1 million.
This number includes 9.7 million in Ethiopia; 3.6 million in the Sudan; 3.4 million in South Sudan; 1.5 million in Burundi; 1.25 million in Kenya; 1.1 million in Somalia; 390 000 in Uganda and 194 000 in Djibouti.
Rwanda and Tanzania are the only countries in eastern Africa that the FAO report didn’t mention among countries that are in need of humanitarian assistance.
According to the FAO publication, production of the 2017A season harvest in Burundi is expected at below-average levels following erratic rains and insecurity conditions, while production prospects are mostly favourable in Rwanda, except in some eastern areas.
Minister Mukeshimana said while Rwanda did not have protective mechanisms against climate change, as it was also affected by extreme weather associated shocks, the country has response mechanisms in place.
She said that the country always ensures at least 10,000 tonnes of maize stocks and 5,000 tonnes of beans in its national reserves.
But, she noted that capacity was exceeded during recent dry spell as the government provided over 10,000 tonnes of maize and over 5,000 tonnes of beans to about 100,000 affected households in the country.
Those households included 70,000 in Eastern Province and 30,000 in Southern Province. It necessitated buying some cereals from storage facilities of partners in the country.
The July figures from MINAGRI’s assessment in Eastern Province revealed that between September 2015 and June last year, drought affected crops on 23,488 hectares of land in the districts of Kayonza, Nyagatare and Kirehe.
Mukeshimana said it is gratifying that the food that was used to support affected households was collected nationally.
“The country had enough stocks with food produced locally, we did not import it,” she said.
That means that though there were some affected households in the country, there was good performance at national level, she said.
Minister Mukeshimana said climate change effects were manifest in Rwanda since June 2015 and it affected crop productivity since then.
She warned that even now, there is insufficient rains which will likely result in lower agriculture produce.
Kayonza District Mayor, Jean Claude Murenzi, said the Government helped the district to get food to provide to affected households, and seeds for planting.
He said some sectors of Rwinkwavu, Murundi, Murama, and Mukarange have started harvesting though yields are poor in some parts of the district due to dry spell.
“We are still irrigating crops,” Murenzi told The New Times on Saturday as he joined Kirehe residents for irrigation of maize and soya plantations.
The president of Rwanda Maize Farmer Cooperatives’ Federation, Evariste Tugirinshuti, told The New Times that farmers will store more this year to cushion themselves from probable food shortages.
Embracing tree planting and irrigation
As a means to combat climate change, Minister Mukeshimana called on farmers to embrace irrigation scheme, especially through small-scale irrigation system, where government subsidises equipment cost at 50 percent.
She stressed the need to plant trees, which she said contribute to rainfall formation.
According to the minister, the crop (cereal) storage facilities (silos) in the country including government owned, [farmers’] cooperatives, districts and private sector ones have capacity to store about 230,000 tonnes.
Currently, irrigated land in the country covers 45,000 hectares, of which about 30,000 hectares are in the Eastern Province, as per figures from Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB).
RAB figures also indicate that an estimated 18,000 hectares of land will be irrigated from this year until 2018 in Eastern Province.