Gatsibo rice farmers have started a journey towards poverty alleviation by embracing modern farming techniques that guarantees high yields. This season alone is predicted to give them over 30,000 tons of rice.
The over 3000 farmers have also started non-agricultural activities which have seen them increase their operation capital to almost Rwf1billion.
The former impoverished peasants, can be seen in their fields spraying pesticide and catering for their smart rice fields.
Elyse Rugwizangoga, the chairman of COPRORIZ –NTENDE, a farmer’s rice cooperative in Rugarama, Rwimbogo and Gitoki sectors of Gatsibo district is optimistic of a bumper harvest this season, of at least thirty thousand tons.
The farmers’ activities are done on 600 hectares across a long stretch of a swamp supplied with water from a dam.
The Chairman of the cooperative said, “This season’s harvest is plentiful; from what we have seen, we expect nothing less than 30,000 tons of rice.
Some of the farmers said they were expecting more than 100 per cent increase in their output this year describing the use of modern farming skills as driving force behind the success.
“We used to grow rice using our grandfathers’ knowledge…so with the acquisition of modern skills our yields have been increasing time after time,” said Nadia Uwimana, one of the farmers.
They identified quick and efficient pest and weed control as a key factor to the success of the farming. The two have been their biggest challenges over the years.
Another farmer reflected on their previous traditional agriculture practices with concern, saying that they wasted a lot of time and energy to earn almost nothing.
In the past, community members grew scattered crops like beans, sweet potatoes, yams, bananas, etc. that were essentially meant for home consumption. Few homes could spare some for sell tolocal markets. This condition left them in perpetual poverty for ages.
However many farmers today produce enough surplus for sell on national and international markets.
“We have changed our livelihoods and lifestyle. 14 years ago I could not even save Rwf 10.000 a year from my crops. Today my savings per year have multiplied by a hundred times. This allows my children and I (I am a widow you know- she said forcing a smile) feed well and live in a well-furnished house of our own,” said Tereza Nyirakamanzi.
According to Elyse Rugwizangoga, due to changes in food demand patterns and some uncertainties in profitability of rice cultivation, Gatsibo rice farmers have had to search for several activities to increase their sources of income.
He said the tradition had been that farmers focused almost solely on farming and undertook little rural non-farm activity. He emphasized that it was very important for farmers to have some other income in addition to growing rice.
“Diversification is very important. We have used agriculture to supply the capital for meaningful diversification into the non-farm economy. This is the best way to sail through in case of poor yields or other eventualities”.
“We can no longer rely entirely on rice farming…Diversification of income activities minimizes farmers’ exposure to surprises by reducing the unpredictability. This is what we have done; we opened a Guest house, recreation facilities, restaurant, etc. These facilities are doing well and offer alternative income and save us from overdependence on agriculture,” he said.
Rugwizangoga said the guest house and other facilities do not only give extra income to the farmers but also employ hundreds of members and other youths from across the country.
Over 3000 families lifted out poverty
The new agricultural development spearheaded by COPRIRIZ Ntende has directly lifted 3000 families and other hundreds of families indirectly out of poverty.