The government targets about 8 per cent annual growth for the agriculture sector from the current 6 per cent under the second Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS II) to ensure food security and spur agro-exports.
Dr Gérardine Mukeshimana, Rwanda’s Minister for Agriculture and Animal Resources, talked with The New Times’ Peterson Tumwebaze about this and other key initiatives aimed at the improving farmers’ incomes and agro-exports.
The agriculture sector is still largely subsistence despite efforts to promote modern and commercial farming ideals. What else is being done to ensure Rwandans look at farming as a business?
Rwanda looks to strengthen market-oriented agriculture production and processing of agriculture commodities. More emphasis is currently on value chains where the country has a comparative advantage and can compete in the domestic, regional and international markets.
The ministry is working with stakeholders to improve access to quality seeds and other inputs as well as farm implements. There are also different initiatives geared at addressing production constraints, reducing post-harvest losses and eliminating market inefficiencies. Priority has been given to value chains, including food staples, horticulture, floriculture, milk and meat production, hides and skins, honey, pyrethrum, coffee and tea.
Farmers have often complained about lack of markets and poor infrastructure. How are these challenges being addressed?
Access to market is a major factor for sustained improved crop yields. Therefore, the development of markets is a key intervention. This involves establishing of post-harvest and cold chain management infrastructure to reduce post-harvest losses and ensure good quality produce.
Government has invested in feeder roads to improve farmer access to markets. Furthermore, there is an online market information systems, e-soko, to facilitate produce marketing.
Though the agriculture sector contributes 30 per cent to the country’s GDP, it is growing at a slow pace. What is the ministry doing to improve crop productivity?
The agriculture sector supports over 72 per cent of Rwanda’s population, mainly in the rural areas. So, it plays a big role in bringing about rural development, as well as reducing poverty and is instrumental in ensuring food security.
The sector contributes one third of GDP after services. Therefore, it has a critical role toward economic growth and export promotion.
It is against this background, that the country has prioritised agriculture and strives to make it more productive, competitive and market-oriented.
There are also programmes geared at increasing production of export crops such as coffee, tea and pyrethrum to improve export volumes. It is also important to improve labour productivity to make the sector more productive per person and hence competitive.
What else is being done to improve agriculture production?
One of the interventions by government is to encourage land consolidation among households with small pieces of land and focus on a specific crop that is suitable for a given locality and has good market access. The rationale is that people with at least 100 hectares of consolidated land attracts more agriculture services and funding.
Land husbandry management through terracing is being implemented in Rwanda because of its hilly nature, which exposes it to soil erosion.
The approach has helped protect land from soil erosion and improved yields of crop grown on hilly slopes. In addition, a public-private partnership approach is used to facilitate farmer access inputs, such as improved seeds, lime, fertilisers and pesticides.
Rwanda has a home-grown extension model where extension staff live within communities, a move that has eased access to services. Most of the extension personnel are trained farmers who are supported by the public extension officers.
The ministry also encourages research to produce disease resistant and high-yielding crop varieties and superior animal breeds. We have also been able to produce fertiliser blends suitable for Rwandan soils thus contributing to increased output.
Government promotes farm mechanisation, including crop irrigation where farmers can access small irrigation equipment at subsidised rates under a government-private partnership scheme.
The mechanisation of farm operations and use of technology are being applied to increase both crop yields and labour productivity per person. These technologies also make agriculture more attractive to the youth.
What are your thoughts on the so called African green revolution?
African countries, including Rwanda, are undergoing significant agricultural transformation due to a home-grown green revolution. Rwanda’s Crop and Livestock Intensification programmes are part of this green revolution.
The continental green revolution emphasises attainment higher agricultural productivity to meet food requirements and generate tradable surpluses. It also seeks to create off-farm jobs along the agricultural value chain through promotion of value addition activities and agro-industries. This is leading to rural development and poverty reduction. However, to sustain this momentum, there is need for increased financing to accelerate agriculture productivity growth on the continent.
African countries committed to allocate 10 per cent of the annual budgets to agriculture about 15 years ago under the Maputo Declaration. Rwanda allocates 7 per cent of its annual budget to agriculture. In addition, the African Heads of State committed to accelerate agricultural growth and transformation for shared prosperity and improved livelihoods in the Malabo Declaration.
What can Rwanda and Africa, generally learn from the rest of the world?
There are lessons for Africa to learn from the Asian green revolution. However, there is need for Africa to innovate as the conditions and context in Africa and Asian are different. For example, a study conducted in Ghana by International Food Policy Research Institute indicated that to increase cereal productivity based on improved varieties, intensive labour and fertiliser as was done in Asia may not necessarily work in Africa where agriculture is mostly limited by the high cost and low productivity of labour.
Therefore, there is need to innovate and produce technologies that will support production. Africa needs to increase access to improved seed varieties and embrace agriculture mechanisation, among others, to make the sector more productive and also boost farmers’ income.