The country has entered the third week of the presidential campaigns and the three candidates have been traversing the country pitching their manifestos to the electorate, ahead of the presidential elections slated for August 3 and 4.
Incumbent Paul Kagame (RPF-Inkotanyi), Frank Habineza (Green Party), and Philippe Mpayimana (Independent) have given priority to agriculture sector, but with different approaches.
Indeed, agriculture is an important sector in Rwanda as it employees about 70 per cent of the population and contributes about 30 per cent to the country’s GDP.
Mpayimana, for instance, says he will introduce reforms in the sector and empower farmers with enough skills such that they can be able to decide which crops to grow, and sell to anyone they wish.
He says there will be no government intervention in setting market prices for farming produce.
Habineza’s agricultural policy proposal focuses on fighting food insecurity and hunger by introducing better methods of farming, replace land consolidation and mono-cropping policy with a better land use policy, and mixed farming in rural areas.
Incumbent President Kagame says he will maintain and strengthen the current agriculture policy, which consists of improving the sector through crop intensification and land use consolidation whereby selected seeds and appropriate agricultural inputs are applied based on appropriate farmland, mechanised farming and irrigation.
The Crop Intensification Programme (CIP) encourages farmers to grow crops with comparative advantage and suitable to their farmlands.
It also focuses on developing seed research and disseminating research findings down to farmers’ level in a bid to increase use of quality seeds.
These efforts are intended to ensure that everybody in Rwanda is nutrition sufficient and reserve the surplus for the market.
This programme has been focusing primarily on six priority crops; maize, wheat, rice, Irish potatoes, beans and cassava.
In 2015, the government decided to add beans, soya beans, cassava, bananas, vegetables and fruits to the list of crops targeted with subsidised fertilisers under the crop intensification programme.
Through CIP, the use of improved seeds by farmers has risen from 3 per cent to over 40 per cent.
Under the same programme, the national average fertiliser use per year increased from 8 kilogrammes per hectare to 32 kilogrammes per hectare in 2016, against the target of 45 kilogrammes per hectare by 2018.
The total fertiliser subsidy in 2016 amounted to about Rwf7.9 billion, which represents, on average, 26 per cent of the total value of the fertiliser at the farm gate.
However, Kagame’s two opponents in the ongoing presidential campaigns have criticised CIP, even pledging to revoke it should they win the poll.
They claim it has led to hunger. So is CIP serving it’s purpose or is it a failed policy?
Farmers, experts’ react
Hawa Mukandutiye, the coordinator of Rwanda Federation of Rice Farmers’ Cooperatives (FUCORIRWA), told The New Times that Crop Intensification Programme and land use consolidation – introduced in 2007 – helped improve crop yields through adopting the cultivation of one suitable crop on combined farmland, which facilitated farmers’ access and proper application of improved seeds and fertilisers through government’s subsidy.
CIP uses an integrated approach that includes facilitation on inputs (improved seeds and fertilisers), consolidation of land use, provision of extension services, and improvement of post-harvest handling and storage mechanisms.
She said average rice produce increased from 1.5 tonne per hectare to 5.5 tonnes per hectare currently thanks to such efforts, noting that the same gains were registered in other crops such as maize and Irish potatoes.
For rice, she said working in cooperatives is compulsory to ensure that farmers get fertilisers together; two, have easy access to pesticides; three, be able to collect harvest that meet quality standards such that the produce from rice processing factories get competitive with the imported rice at the market.
“The cooperative policy should remain and be reinforced so that we continue grow crops on suitable land, and know the quantity of the produce we have in the country, the quality of that produce so that we are able to compare ourselves with the produce from abroad, and be able to advance agriculture sector based on evidence,” Mukandutiye said.
The chairperson of agriculture and livestock at Private Sector Federation (PSF), Christine Murebwayire, told The New Times that a crop should be grown in an area where it is suitable, lauding CIP and land use consolidation.
She noted the policy increased small and medium [community] processing units which enabled the creation of jobs through the transformation of agriculture produce through value addition like flour from maize.
“Can you take beans (seeds) and grow them together with yams, sorghum, eggplants on the same farmland for the sake of letting people grow what they please? What kind of agriculture policy is that?” Murebwayire asked.
She said that when farmers used inter-cropping approach, “we produced about one tonne per hectare, but the produce rose to about 5.5 tonnes of maize per hectare, thanks to CIP interventions.”
“This policy of growing a crop that is appropriate to a given area is the right policy that is advantageous to people,” she said, referring to CIP and land use consolidation.
Narcisse Ndagijimana, the director for chamber of agriculture and livestock at PSF, explained that CIP and land use consolidation were based on principle that a farmer should assess the crops and focus on one which they have potentials in growing, then let others also grow other crops, and after, the farmer sells their produce and buy other crops from other farmers who grew them, also based on their potentials.
Moreover, he said that CIP was initiated after a study that determined how it was more productive than the previous farming practices whereby a farmer would mix crops on the same land – mono-cropping.
“CIP resulted in many good things. The programme is good, what might have problems is how it is implemented. If leaders and the people work together for better implementation of this programme, it can produce even better yields,” he said.
A prominent expert in agriculture, who preferred to speak on condition of anonymity for fear that he might be seen as meddling in politics, said he does not see the rationale of having each farmer grow all crops they want, and handling the marketing of their produce singlehandedly, stating that farmers would face difficulties having bargaining power for prices because they would produce too little produce for the market.
He said most farmers in the country are smallholders, noting that the average farmland in the country is 0.3 hectare, which requires a proper policy to make agriculture an economic driver.
“If you have a vision for subsistence agriculture where you have to produce for your stomach, that is another vision, but I don’t think that’s a vision that would move a country forward,” he said.
He said that with agriculture contributing more than 30 per cent of the country’s gross Domestic Product (GDP), if the sector policies don’t work, the economy goes down.
“So, that is why I think the current policy was encouraging farmers to get together, there are cooperatives that are encouraged because they serve two main purposes: You have to increase the production and if you want market, you have to produce in meaningful quantity consistently,” he said.
Meanwhile, farmers and experts in Rwanda’s agriculture contend that markets in Rwanda are liberalised, and that the prices for farming produce are set through public-private partnership whereby all parties, including the farmers, traders and consumers, are represented.
This, they say, is done in a such way that the farmer gets a favourable price for their produce so that they do not fall victim of low prices vis-à-vis their investment.
Rwanda’s economy registered a 5.9 per cent growth rate in 2016.