Fresh university graduates to drive agric modernisation and food security efforts

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Nsengiyumva shows farmers how to plant cassava stem cuttings at the launch of Season A. The Minister said the cuttings should be planted horizontally, not vertically, for better results. / Michel Nkurunziza

Efforts geared at strengthening modern farming and helping spur crop production to ensure food security have been boosted by deployment of fresh agriculture university graduates in different parts of the country to support farmers. The volunteer extension workers are expected to equip sector players with the right agronomic skills and knowledge to improve crop production, according to the State Minister for Agriculture, Fulgence Nsengiyumva.

Nsengiyumva revealed this after launching planting Season A in Southern Province on Friday, adding that the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources will deploy the young professionals as extension workers under a volunteer programme.

The minister told Business Times that the initiative aims at engaging youth in agriculture to ensure its transformation and boost output, help reduce post-harvest losses while also easing the unemployment rate among the youth.

The group will work with farmer cooperatives, training members in the best agronomic practices such as application of fertilisers, using pesticides, proper time for planting, as well as weeding and other farming techniques aimed at increasing agriculture productivity.

“Besides complementing other agricultural experts in the field such as agronomists and researchers, the young graduates will be able to enhance their skills and get motivated to engage in agri-business,” he said.

The initiative kicked off last month and was officially flagged off during the official launch of Season A activities in Ruhango District.

According to the minister, 60 fresh graduates are working with Irish potato farmers, 30 young professional are with vegetable growers in Kigali marshlands, while 300 others are supporting rice farmers in different marshlands across the country, and 60 graduates are supporting cassava farmers in Ruhango. More will be sent to districts with emphasis on the dominant crops.

“We do not have enough agronomists who can reach every farmer. Therefore, the fresh graduates, who will be working in their respective sectors and cells of origin, will fill this gap,” he said.

How to join

All fresh graduates interested in agricultural extension activities can register with the youth forum. The volunteers are facilitated in their daily activities with a few incentives.

“It is also an opportunity for them to market their skills which can enable them get permanent jobs with the ministry or elsewhere or even create their own jobs,” the minister added.

Making agriculture youth-centric

The officials said it is important for the youth to join the agriculture sector to reactivate it and make it more productive. The demographic structure of Rwanda is characterised by a youthful population, the majority of which are aged between 16-30 years (28 per cent). However, the average age of farmers in Rwanda is 55 years old, something the ministry is looking to change.

Reducing the ageing farmer population in agriculture sector is central to promoting sustainable production and a higher level of food security, the ministry officials said, adding that the ministry facilitated the formation of the Rwanda Youth in Agribusiness Forum (RYAF).

Each year, over 300,000 Rwandan youth enter the country’s labour markets, according to official figures.

Targeting better yields

Minister Nsengiyumva said farmers are still harvesting little yields considering the needed potential yields per hectare. “Some farmers still harvest eight tonnes of cassava per one hectare, but others are able to harvest up to 30 tonnes from similar size of land. So, we are optimistic that the young professionals will be instrumental in efforts toward improving agronomic practices to ensure optimal yields per hectare,” he said.

Figures show that the current average rice yields stand at between three and five tonnes per hectare while the potential yield is eight tonnes an hectare.

The produce of Irish potatoes per hectare is 25 tonnes, but this could go up to 40 tonnes if the recommended agronomical practices are adapted. Maize output stands at 3.5 tonnes against six tonnes of potential yields per hectare, while for bananas it is currently eight tonnes while the potential output is 28 tonnes per hectare.

“Farmers also need financial support, guidance on best agronomic practices, fertilisers and pesticides, as well as how to use them, and the best time for planting and harvesting,” Faustin Twagirayeze, a farmer in Nyagatare District said.

He said he applies 40 tonnes of manure in his banana plantation every 12 months, and ensures proper care for the crop “which is not done by most of farmers”.

“Most farmers harvest eight tonnes per hectare per season, but I harvest 30 tonnes per hectare. If farmers get the right skills and knowledge, they will use it to increase crop productivity. However, it is not easy for farmers to get support from agronomists because they are few,” he said, adding that the new initiative by the ministry could help address the challenge and spur the sector’s growth.

Rwanda’s vision for agricultural transformation and development goals are geared at ensuring food security and fighting poverty and enabling the country to attain $1,240 per capita income by 2020. Agriculture transformation has been identified as one of the major pillars of the country’s Vision 2020. The country targets annual growth rate of 8.5 per cent for the agricultural sector, which grew only at 5 per cent in 2015/16. The sector employs over 72 per cent of the Rwandan population.