How commercial agriculture has transformed Nyagatare farmers

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Muvara and RAB officials inspecting RISCO maize garden. / Olivia Muragijimana

About three years ago, it was hard for farmers in Kagitumba, Nyagatare District to get seeds on time and at affordable prices. This situation often resulted into poor yields and low household incomes.

This was, however, to change following a partnership between seed dealer, Rwanda Improved Seed Company (RISCO), Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) and Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to build capacity of farmers and find ways to improve access to quality seeds like beans and maize.

The intervention has helped enhance productivity and created more jobs in the area, hence boosting people’s standards of living, according to farmers and officials from the three organisations. According to Fidel Nizeyimana, a maize researcher at RAB, the partnership between the three organisations has made it easy for farmers to access inputs like seeds and fertilisers.

“Farmers are able to get quality seeds at affordable prices and plant on time. This is important to improve crop production and farmers household incomes,” he added.

Hybrid maize seeds produced by RISCO cost Rwf1,450 per kilogramme, while imported improved seeds are at Rwf2,050 and ordinary maize goes for Rwf500. Nizeyimana said more residents now consider farming as a business, noting that this has opened new avenues to create jobs and better standards of living.

Agriculture is a key contributor to the national economy and key foreign exchange earner. The agriculture sector employs over 72 per cent of the Rwandan population and contributes over 34 per cent to GDP, the second-highest after the services sector.

Better farming methods

John Muvara, the director manager of RISCO, said the partnership with AGRA has enabled farmers to learn proper agronomic and farming practices, which has helped to improve their production.

Muvara said the partnership has enhanced production of maize and beans to 100 tonnes per season from just 12 tonnes previously and has 84 hectares of land under beans and maize compared to 30 hectares before the partnership. The project has also created more employment opportunities residents.

“Currently, we employ over 100 casual workers and four retained staff compared to 30 casual workers and one retainer previously. This, he added, has transformed lives of many farmers, with many of them now having savings accounts with village saving and credit groups.

Muvara explained that RAB provided hybrid seeds of both maize and beans for multiplication and AGRA gave them financial and technical support.

Kent E. Short, a consultant at AGRA, said the organisation seeks to support farmers to improve production and agriculture value chain as well as promote environment-friendly practices.

Short added these interventions would ensure food security, noting that the organisation provides seeds, financial support and building capacity of smallholder farmers to boost their productivity and incomes.

He said they use approaches tailored to Africa and local conditions “with strong emphasis on securing the environment and enhancing productivity”.

AGRA supports smallholder farmers across Africa to reduce poverty and hunger on the continent.

Smallholder farmers make up 70 per cent of Africa’s population, according to available statistics.

Other farmers speak out

Peter Munyaneza, a worker at RISCO, said he is able to pay school fees for his children, as well as cater for the family’s basic needs and save. “We make most of the money during planting and harvesting periods. These earnings have helped improve our standards of living,” he added.

Janette Mbabazi, a farmer, said she is paid Rwf1,000 per day, of which about Rfw500 is deposited on her savings account at the local SACCO. Mbabazi said she is planning to start a retail shop using the savings, a move she said will enable her to be fully financially independent.

Challenges

Muvara said the high cost of labour and land were affecting initiatives aimed at the increasing crop production. The farmer added that some people still have a misconception that agriculture is a preserve of rural poor, which he said is a barrier to commercialisation of the sector.

Lack of facilities and modern irrigation systems is one of the biggest challenges in the drought-prone Eastern Province district. Muvara said they have to part with Rwf16,000 per season to irrigate a 12-hectare farm.

Rwanda should embrace modern agriculture to change the fortunes of the sector and increase output, Muvara said.

Lack of proper post-harvest handling facilities leads to huge losses, especially during the February harvest period when there are rains. Muvara said many people shun farming, saying it for village folks, which is affecting efforts to improve the sector and ultimately boost household incomes of farming communities.