Over 1,000 maize farmers in Rusizi District incurred huge losses after they planted late leading to poor yields during Season A (early this year). The failure of the crop was blamed on delays in seed distribution.
Farmers had ordered for PAN4M21 improved maize seeds that grow well in both highlands and lowlands. However, most of seeds arrived into the country late, forcing lowland farmers to plant substitute variety H629 reserved for farmers in high-altitude areas.
The result was empty granaries and stores as the crop failed.
However, such challenges could soon be history following a new strategy by Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) to produce seeds locally.
Dr Telesphore Ndabamenye, the head of crop production and food security at RAB, said the initiative will help avoid such challenges, reduce cost of seeds and the country’s import bill. Dr Ndabamenye said at least 70 per cent of seeds will be produced in the country by 2021 under the new strategy. He said that Rwanda still imports hybrid maize seeds from Kenya, Zambia and Malawi, among others.
The local seed production strategy focuses on eight crops - maize, wheat, Irish and sweet potatoes, soya and beans.
“We have developed the road map and target to produce at least 70 per cent of needed seeds locally, especially hybrid varieties that are not easy to get by 2021,” he said.
“We spend over Rwf3.4 billion to import hybrid cereal seeds each season. Maize and soya go for Rwf2,000 per kilogramme, while that of wheat costs Rwf1,200. Once the cost is reduced, the money will be invested in research and seed multiplication instead of spending it on imports, which is not sustainable,” he told Business Times in an interview.
During the agriculture season A, at least 17,000 tonnes of maize seeds were imported. He added that production of 191 tonnes of soya seeds locally has eased on imports, noting that there are currently no challenges with wheat seeds.
“We have started to develop and multiply new seed varieties for the eight crops already identified…We are optimistic that from next year, we will be able to give them out to farmers which will reduce seed imports gradually going forward. There are still few seed multiplication centres, but we are working with private companies that can do it as business,” Ndabamenye said.
RAB is going to partner with Kenya Seed Company and Western Seed Company on the initiative, he added.
“We are going to conduct research on a number of local seed varieties for different crops and then multiply them,” the RAB official said.
Ndabamenye said there are plans to multiply nine varieties of hybrid maize seeds to reduce on imports.
“We have 1,000 hectares on which to multiply the seed varieties, from which we target to produce 3,000 tonnes of maize seeds that we will start distributing to farmers next year,” he added.
Seed delivery delays
According to Ndabamenye, there was a target of using 250,000 tonnes of maize seeds for agriculture season A by both highlands and lowlands farmers, but only 62 per cent of this was available by mid-September due to delays in delivery of imported hybrid seeds.
He said 1,075 tonnes had to be imported of which 800 tonnes are reserved to highlands and 1,450 tonnes for lowlands.
Farmers, seed dealers speak out
Devota Sabamariya, the president of Amizero Iwacu Maize Cooperative in Nyagatare District, told Business Times that sometimes hybrid seeds or fertilisers are delivered late. Sabamariya added that this has a negative impact on production because farmers resort to planting traditional or poor quality seeds.
“We harvest between 2.5 tonnes and three tonnes per hectare when we use traditional seeds. But with hybrid seeds, we can harvest between four and six tonnes from the same piece of land,” the farmer said last week.
She said those that wait for imported seeds are always affected by the dry season because they plant late. Since most farmers intercrop maize and beans, this delay also affects beans.
“This season, seeds arrived in two phases because we were told that needed amount cannot be availed at once. Getting seeds on time can help avoid losses and poor crop production that farmers always incur,” she explained.
Evariste Bizimungu, a maize farmer from Western Province, said some farmers were forced to plant seeds that had overstayed in stores or other low quality seeds.
“Agronomists assured that the seeds would soon arrive, but we realise that this could delay planting. So, we had to plant low quality seeds to avoid missing out on the planting period,” he added.
Jean Nsabimana, a seed dealer in Eastern Province, said they also experience seed distribution delays. “We have challenges of seeds as they do not arrive on time. Secondly, when they are brought in, they are inadequate. As we speak now (Friday), some seeds are yet to arrive. It’s such delays that compel farmers to plant poor quality seeds which affects production,” he said.
Imported vs locally-produced seeds
Nsabimana said many farmers prefer hybrid seeds imported from outside to those produced locally. For instance, I have two tonnes of seeds multiplied by RAB, but nobody is buying them as farmers wait for the imported ones.
“If RAB starts producing hybrid seeds locally, it will solve the current challenges,” he added.