How technology is primed to transform farming in Rwanda

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A farmer using the applications during the testing event in Rulindo District, Tuesday, November 7, 2017. (Photos by Emmanuel Ntirenganya)

A collection of applications designed to provide farmers with timely information on climate change, crops, livestock and diseases affecting them for informed decision making have been tested for effectiveness.

One of the applications will provide data on state of weather, amount of rain and soil humidity, and livestock performance to ensure better farm management and productivity, as well as market information on produce.

The apps are intended to reduce the effects of climate change, and diseases on crops, so that farmers get yield in a sustainable manner, according to developers.

They were tested on Tuesday in Rulindo District, Northern Province. The testing intended to ensure that farmers give their input about the technology based on on-field farming practices or challenges they face in the farming process and how they can better get addressed.

The technology is under “Agricultural Services and Digital Inclusion in Rwanda,” a project that has four mobile applications, including ‘Cure and feed your livestock,’ ‘eNtrifood,’ ‘Weather and crop calendar,’ and ‘AgriMarketplace.’ 

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Eugene Rwagasore (L), a senior software engineer at FAO showing a farmer how to register and use the agriculture applications in Rulindo District.

It is an initiative developed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI), and the Ministry of ICT.

Jacqueline Uwimana, a farmer in Ngoma Sector, Rulindo District, said there are times when they plant beans or maize but the seeds cannot even germinate because of drought.

“Access to relevant and timely weather or climate change information can help farmers make informed decisions on farming practices, which can protect us from losses,” she said.

Uwimana said lack of information and access to markets has been costing farmers a lot as they fall victim of low prices, explaining to The New Times that the price at which farmers sell broccoli vegetable ranges from Rw250 to Rwf1,000 depending on production and supply. 

“There is lack of ready market. If we get it, we can get more income from our farm produce,” she said.

Annonciata Muteteri, a forecast officer at Rwanda Meteorology Agency, said they will be feeding information into the application that will make farmers decide the crops to grow and what best farming practices to apply depending on the climatic conditions in question so as to get better results.

“If there will be less rains, farmers can grow crops with short maturity period. And, in case there is no rain predicted, farmers can grow crops but embrace irrigation,” she said.

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Jacqueline Uwimana, a farmer from Rulindo District speaking to The New Times about issues of drought, and market access that farmers face.

Information on market trends

The senior software engineer at FAO, Eugene Rwagasore, told The New Times that, thanks to access to the much needed market information, farmers can decide to sell their produce in places where there are favourable prices instead of getting low prices in areas where there is abundance of such produce.

“You might have your maize drying under dry spell, or your cows lacking water due to drought. We want to address such challenges through making use data,” he said, adding that FAO was seeking to have all available information under the application free of charge to farmers. 

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Some beans in their flowering stage in Rulindo District.

Dr Isdor Gafarasi, the director of veterinary services at Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), said the application will help farmers better manage their farms for enhanced productivity as it will enable them access information on veterinary services.

“The application will have database of veterinary services, including different types of diseases affecting livestock, and a farmer will be advised on how they can manage them. Also, we will register all contacts of all veterinarians, their pharmacies and where they are located to help the farmer connect with them more easily,” he said.

The technology, which is due to be launched in December, is being designed by local developers under ICT Chamber of the Private Sector Federation (PSF).

The National ICT for Agriculture Strategy, running from 2016  to 2020, targets to register two million farmers countrywide from current 300,000 farmers in 2015 in a centralised, accessible, and secure database, and digitise all agriculture related knowledge material and make it available online and mobile telephone.

According to information from the Ministry of ICT, about 80 per cent of Rwandans have mobile phones, while 33.5 per cent of the population has access to internet.

It is against such background that the institutions spearheading the ICT project say its use will benefit many farmers, hence improving crop produce and people’s livelihoods.

 

editorial@newtimes.co.rw