Members of Parliament have tasked the Minister for Agriculture and Animal Resources, Gerardine Mukeshimana, to step up interventions to address key challenges that continue to dog the sector.
During Tuesday’s plenary session, the lawmakers pointed to a lack of quality seeds and high quality fertiliser for various crops in the country; water and pasture shortages for cattle mainly during dry season, especially in the Eastern Province; poor dairy sector performance; persistent crop diseases; and research that fail to respond to farmers’ needs.
MP Ignatienne Nyirarukundo, the Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, livestock and environment, wondered why Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), established in 2010, has failed to avail enough quality seeds to farmers.
Other lawmakers wondered why milk collection centres in various parts of the country operate below 30 per cent of their full capacity. There are 101 milk collection centres across the country with capacity to process over 400,000 litres per day, according to the committee.
Each of these centres was built at about Rwf100 million, they said.
Minister Mukeshimana explained that RAB had few researchers to develop new seed varieties like banana, cassava and vegetables, but added that five studies were currently ongoing and would be completed soon.
She said that for crop diseases and pests, the country has no specialists, with hopes pinned on two people who are currently undergoing studies in the field.
She attributed less research to inadequate funding.
Funding for research, she said, has risen to 14 per cent of the ministry’s total budget in the current fiscal year (2016/17) up from a paltry 4 per cent during the fiscal year 2012/2013.
The minister also said that, currently, 48 milk collection centres meet requirements, up from only 28 in 2015.
A milk collection centre is considered to meet full operational requirements when it has a collection facility, market, veterinary services, and animal feeds.
She said her ministry is working with the Rwanda Cooperative Agency to build the capacities of cooperatives to run the centres more professionally.
On Irish potato seeds, Mukeshimana said that in this 2017 season B, there are about 2,124 tonnes of certified seeds, about 25 per cent of the needed quantity in the country.
In 2018 Season B, she said, the government will have achieved 50 per cent of the needed seeds.
On cassava, she noted that cassava cuttings being multiplied mainly in the Southern Province account for 21 per cent, with plans to increase cuttings through new varieties by 2020.
On rice, the minister said there are enough seeds (about 720 tonnes) in place and research is going on to develop new varieties that are more productive in terms of quality and quantity.
Water, animal feeds
Last year, efforts were put into the multiplication of fodder – on about 450 hectares –, according to Minister Mukeshimana.
She said that a kilogramme of fodder was brought down to Rwf2,500 from Rw12,500 previously to make it affordable for livestock farmers.
In Eastern Province, according to the minister, in the districts of Gatsibo, Nyatare and Kayonza pasture was grown on 550 hectares while about 280 dairy farmers have been trained in grass storage.
She explained that the government scrapped tax on animal feed processing factories to reduce the cost of feeds.
Explaining the situation of water shortage for cattle, Mukeshimana said that about 13 valley dams (each with capacity of about 40,000 cubic metres) have since been put in place in Eastern Province.
Feeder roads to ease farmers’ produce transportation
Minister Mukeshimana, meanwhile, told the lawmakers that with support from the World Bank, a total of 100.92 kilometres of feeder roads would be constructed in Nyaruguru District and another 87.8km road in Nyabihu District to help farmers around the Gishwati protected area transport their milk to a dairy plant in Mukamira.
Also, a 47.2-kilometre road will be constructed to ease supply of tea to a Rutsiro District-based tea factory, she said.
MP Gabriel Semasaka challenged RAB to put more efforts in empowering researchers but put in place incentives to enable their retention.
He urged the Ministry of Trade, Industry and East African Community affairs and that of Agriculture and Animal Resources to come up with effective collaboration to ensure milk quality and profitability across the value chain.