Govt moves to bridge seeds gap


Irish potatoes might be Rwanda’s staple food but its seeds are hard to come by for farmers. File.

Rwanda should be able to fully provide own seeds for farming by 2020, according to the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB). To accomplish this, RAB will need to intensively replicate already developed improved seeds and speed up research to develop new varieties.

The goal is to end the practice of importing maize, soya and wheat seeds, according to RAB director-general Mark Cyubahiro Bagabe.

“We have for long depended on seed imports and that is dangerous,” Bagabe told The New Times last week. “By 2019 or latest 2020, we should put a lid on importation of seeds.”

The Head of RAB’s Northern Province’s Zone, Jean Claude Izamuhaye, said they got about 27 private investors in greenhouse technologies for seed production and there are other alternatives that will help them settle the seeds issue sooner through the use of new technologies consisting of direct transfer of in vitro plantlets from laboratory to the soil.

He noted that the trials made through the application of the new technology showed that about 20 tonnes of seeds can be produced per hectare.

The agricultural board currently faces limitations from a lack of relevant infrastructure, a lack of qualified researchers, and lack of incentives to researchers, according to parliamentarians.

Rwanda currently imports about 3,000 metric tonnes of seeds (hybrid maize, wheat and soybean) worth about Rwf3 billion per year, according to figures from RAB.

The country’s reliance on seed imports is not sustainable, said legislators in recent plenary sessions.

The use of improved seeds by farmers has risen from 3 per cent to about 40 per cent today, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources. However, the Government’s seven-year programme aims to improve seed use of 100 per cent for all farmers in the country by the end of 2017.

From the first agriculture season, dubbed 2017 A – which started in September 2016 – the production capacity of the Musanze-based potato laboratory was increased from 80,000 to 800,000 plantlets per season.

Izamuhaye said they will generate about 21,510 tonnes of Irish potato seeds to be distributed to farmers.

For some crops, there are not enough seeds available in Rwanda. This is true of the Irish potato. Twenty per cent of Irish potato seeds available are locally produced. Farmers have to source the other 80 per cent of the seeds they need.

Farmers pushed into a corner

The president of the Irish potato farmers’ cooperatives, Vincent Havugimana, said the lack of seeds and the high prices for the few available seeds in the country — about Rwf600 a kilogramme — have pushed farmers, especially near the borders, to import cheap seeds.

However, those seeds are not certified and often bring in diseases that threaten crops in the country, he said.

Dr Patrick Karangwa, the head of research at RAB, said apart from developing varieties from own research materials, their research involves introduction of new varieties from other regional and international research centres around the world for testing adaptability in Rwanda.

He noted that RAB now boasts well trained scientists who are specialised in plant breeding and seed systems for maize, rice, wheat, cassava, potato.

The Government is also targeting maize and soya seed production and plans to provide enough seeds of these for all farmers by 2019.

Under a crop intensification programme, in 2008, 765 tonnes of maize and wheat hybrid seeds were imported for cultivation in first season of the year dubbed season A.

The amount increased to 3,512 tonnes of maize and wheat seeds in 2011 A.

Five varieties of maize seeds are ready to be multiplied, said Bagabe. These varieties produce between 6.16 tonnes and 8.67 tonnes per hectare, RAB said.

Earlier this month, RAB unveiled about 10 wheat varieties that Bagabe said are ready for release and multiplication; by the end of 2019, there should be enough local seeds for all farmers in the country. The varieties have high grain yield potential and are good for baking and milling,

Government funding has increased for research activities, Dr Karangwa, told The New Times.

The budget for seed research increased from Rwf290 million in the previous fiscal year to Rwf1 billion currently, he said, and this support should continue through the next fiscal year.

“Research is a time consuming endeavour,” Karangwa said. “The development of a new variety does not take less than five years; sometimes it takes 12 years.”

Importing seeds for hybrid maize, soya, cassava and wheat hinders the crop intensification programme because these seeds do not reach farmers on time, said the chairperson of the senatorial standing committee on economic development and finance, Jacqueline Muhongayire.

Sometimes the seeds are not tested for productivity and soil suitability to ensure desired yields, she added.

The Crop Intensification Programme, which began in September 2007, aims to increase agricultural productivity and ensure food security in the country by improving seeds and fertilisers, consolidating land use, providing extension services, and improving post-harvest handling and storage procedures.

The programme focuses on six priority crops: maize, wheat, rice, Irish potato, beans and cassava.

Cooperatives were required in 2014 to stop producing open pollinated varieties of improved maize seeds, said Senator Muhongayire.

Hybrid seeds

The government was moving to encourage hybrid maize seed use over the open pollinated varieties, which are naturally propagated by wind and insect pollination.

Hybrid maize seeds are more productive, at 10 tonnes of yield per hectare compared to 6 tonnes per hectare from the open pollinated varieties.

However, hybrid maize seeds contribute only 30 per cent of the maize seeds required for crops, Senator Chrysologue Karangwa said.

As a result, cooperatives and other individual farmers can once again propagate and sell open pollinated maize seeds as the hybrid research continues, Dr Bagabe said.

Seed imports have helped ease the transition to local hybrid seed use, but farmers need improved seeds and their higher crop yields to meet production demands, said Nyirarukundo.

“We have a big issue: We cannot increase produce if we do not have improved seeds,” Nyirarukundo said. “Agro-processing factories, which can help us create jobs for our people, are all crying about lack of raw materials to process.”