2017 in review: Agriculture defied armyworms, drought to grow by 8%

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A farmer sprays his onion garden. / File

After a period of slow growth, agricultural production grew by 8 per cent in 2017.

President Kagame, in his State of the Nation address in December, said such performance was realised despite challenges, such as pests like armyworms, and drought in some parts of the country.

Rwanda’s agriculture sector has been, on average, growing at 5% a year, against the target of 8.5% by 2018, according to information from the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources.

Here’s a recap of the interventions that characterised the sector last year.

Concerted efforts to fight armyworms

In farming season B of 2017, which started from February ending in June 2017, Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) targeted to harvest about 220,000 tonnes of maize from estimated 65,000 hectares countrywide, but about 5% of the produce or 5,000 hectares of the maize plantations, amounting to some 10,000 tonnes, were destroyed by fall armyworms, according to the Director General of RAB, Dr Mark Cyubahiro Bagabe.

The pest was first reported in Rwanda in February, 2017.

Bagabe told The New Times that that the growth was really out of simple, “collective and smart efforts including, but not limited to availability of sufficient agricultural inputs (seeds, fertilisers, pesticides for the control of Fall Army Worm), with active support from Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF), local government, Rwanda National Police, the community, and civil society.

To expedite interventions to contain the pest, RDF used its aircraft to supply pesticide in parts of the country where it was needed.

The pesticide was made by AgroPy Ltd, a Musanze District-based manufacturer of liquid and powder organic and eco-friendly pesticides. The company is affiliated to Horizon Group.

Innocent Seminega, Ag General Manager for AgroPy Ltd, told The New Times that about 6,100 litres of Pyrethrum EWC+ (one of the pesticides used to control the pest) was supplied to RAB.

The president of maize farmers’ cooperatives federation, Evariste Tugirinshuti, told The New Times that the efforts of farmers, government institutions and community work helped them to save their crops and minimise losses.

Going forward, Telesphore Ndabamenye, the head of crop production and food security at RAB, said that in the current farming season, the fight against armyworms started from planting period, and the campaign to mobilse farmers to combat the pests has been reinforced through farmer promoter to contain them before they grow, or become destructive.

With such early response, he said, “there might be only a 2 per cent loss of agriculture produce for this season A which started in September 2017.”

Ndabamenye said other factors including the increase in use of quality seeds and fertilisers, tackling the cassava brown streak disease which had ravaged farmers’ crops, as well as scaling up of irrigation scheme contributed to the improved performance of the agriculture sector in 2017.

“Positive selection of quality Irish potato seeds from farmers was another factor behind increased potato production,” he said.

Bagabe also said that through Army Week activities for cultivation of idle land and planting of crops, especially vegetables were held, contributed to increment in crop production.

Small scale irrigation intensified

According to figures from the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI) some 48,5000 hectares have been irrigated so far, of which about 5,600 are covered under small-scale irrigation where the government covers 50 per cent of the cost as subsidy.

Each year, MINAGRI says, government allocates Rwf2.5 billion under small-scale irrigation subsidy initiative; to help small scale farmers (doing farming activities on less than 10 hectares) afford irrigation technologies.

The country seeks to nearly double irrigated area to over 102,000 hectares by 2024.

“There has been unusual use of irrigation through growing high value crops, such as green beans, and tomatoes which relatively generate more revenues,” Ndabamenye said.

Addressing cassava disease

After the cassava brown streak disease attacked farmers’ plantations, especially in Southern Province, farmers suffered huge losses, and cassava shortage drove up prices.

Ndabamenye said that efforts to tackle the cassava disease, locally called “Kabore”, have been gaining momentum, especially through the distribution of cassava cuttings of a variety free from the disease, which increased cassava production.

Speaking to The New Times last Thursday, the president of the federation of cassava farmer cooperatives, Martin Harerimana, said the disease is now almost contained.

He said farmers got some 20 million cassava cuttings that are resistant to the disease and they planted them on about 2,000 hectares for multiplication in the districts of Kamonyi, Ruhango, and Bugesera as well as Kirehe.

With such support, he said, the farmland on which cassava is grown countrywide (over 100,000 hectares) is covered by over 50%.

Fodder, water dams save cows

After prolonged drought that devastated crops and cattle in the country from 2015, an initiative to grow and store grass for use during drought, as well as construction of dams, started yielding good results in 2017.

The Eastern Province was the worst affected by the dry spell that ravaged crops on over 23,000 hectares, as well as drying pastures and water wells.

At least 1,750 cows died during the prolonged drought in Nyagatare District alone, before the initiative was rolled out, according to Gahiga Gashumba, the chairperson of the National Dairy Farmers Federation of Rwanda (NDFFR).

New project for potato exports launched

In August 2017, the government and BlackPace Africa Group, a Nigerian firm, signed a deal for a five-year project, worth $120 million (about Rwf102 billion), to increase production and add value to Irish potato produce.

The project consists of building two potato factories; one at the Kigali Special Economic Zone in Gasabo District for frozen French fries, and another in Nyabihu District to produce potato products for the export market.

The firm targets production capacity of 10 million tonnes of potato by the fifth year of the project.

When it starts operations, it will process 80,000 to 100,000 tonnes of potatoes making frozen French fries, and potato flakes and crisps (Nyabihu plant) targeting export markets in Africa and the Middle East, according to Olusegun Paul Andrew, the chairman of BlackPace Africa Group.

To be implemented under the public-private partnership arrangement, the potato project will seek to increase yield per hectare from 15 to 35 tonnes by the fifth year of its operations, officials said.

New fish-feeds factory

A factory that reduced the cost of fish feed from about Rwf1,500 to Rwf800, started operating in the country last year. The factory is expected to significantly increase production of fish and reduce fish imports, as farmers will get quality and affordable feed locally instead of relying only on feed imports.

The factory, located at Kigali Special Economic Zone (KSEZ), has capacity to produce about 700 kilogrammes of feed per hour.

There are only 1,600 tonnes of fish produce from aquaculture per year, but Rutaganira noted that, thanks to this factory, the produce could increase to between 5,000 tonnes and 10,000 tonnes per year if farmers embrace the feed.

The factory comes after the Government privatised Urban Fisheries Products Promotion Centre, a facility that was responsible for collecting fish and selling it in the City of Kigali, to Acquahort Exports Ltd, on a 10-year lease.

The privatisation was intended to address the issue of low fish produce in the country, officials said.

Rwanda’s total fish production from both aquaculture and capture fisheries amounts to 26,500 tonnes per year. This production is by far lower than the target of 112,000 tonnes which had been set for 2018.

Rwanda imports about 15,000 tonnes of fish per year, according to figures from RAB.

Rwf53 billion dairy project launched

The six-year $65.1 million (about Rwf53 billion) project is expected to improve the livelihoods of over 100,000 smallholder farmers and offer opportunities for other actors in the country’s dairy sector.

Its interventions include increasing milk produce through provision of cows to vulnerable households, and treating diseases which adversely affect cow productivity, and rehabilitation of milk collection centres in the country to be able to handle milk produce for subsequent value addition.

The project, launched in March, 2017, is a result of an agreement signed on November 4, 2016, between the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Government of Rwanda

A 2016 report by the parliamentary standing committee on agriculture, livestock and environment showed that 32 milk collection centres it assessed across the country were collecting only 36,710 litres of milk per day, just under 30 per cent of their full operating capacity of 128,500 litres.

There are 101 milk collection centres countrywide, with capacity to process over 400,000 litres of milk per day.

The president of Rwanda Dairy Farmers’ Cooperatives Federation, Gahiga Gashumba, told The New Times that the project also provides artificial insemination for cows and vaccination.

He pointed out that one of the most important interventions is the vaccination of cows against Ikibagarira (Theileriose), a serious disease that kills most cows than any other disease.

“Thanks to the project, a farmer will pay Rwf1,200 instead of Rwf8,000 for one dose of the vaccine for a cow,” he said.

Growth of agriculture sector has been instrumental in the growth of the country’s economy, which grew by 8 percent in the third quarter of 2017.

About 70 percent of Rwandans live on agriculture, and the sector contributes about 30 per cent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw