Africa should embrace technology and innovations to boost agro-production and, hence save the billions of dollars the continent spends on food imports, the Minister for Agriculture and Animal Resources has said.
Dr Gerardine Mukeshimana said use of advanced technology helps increase crop yields across the continent, a development that would help reduce imported foodstuff. Citing maize, the minister said the crop’s yield can increase by half if farmers planted hybrid maize seeds compared to using ordinary maize seeds.
Mukeshimana was briefing reporters about the African Union commitments on agriculture transformation and growth that are geared at expediting the transformation of the sector in Kigali on Monday. She also updated the media about Rwanda’s implementation progress on these commitments.
Africa spends an average of $35 billion on food imports, which is projected to rise to $110 billion by 2025, if the current trend continues, according to experts.
The minister said countries on the continent import foodstuff from as far as Europe and America. She urged African governments to embrace intra-African trade under the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA). The CFTA deal was signed yesterday in Kigali by Heads of State and Government from across the continent during an extraordinary African Union Summit.
“Instead of trading amongst ourselves, we have been importing agricultural products from Europe, America, among other parts of the world. We are, however, optimistic that the larger market created under CFTA will benefit us, particularly farmers, through intra-Africa trade,” she noted.
She added, however, that it is important to put in place enabling conditions to make the deal become a success.
Dr Mukeshimana said that Rwanda has implemented several reforms in line with this initiative, including easing visa acquisition and growing of RwandAir’s list of destinations across the continent. These, she added, were key components required to movement of people and goods across the continent.
Rwanda exports agricultural produce to DR Congo, Tanzania, Uganda, Mali, Zambia, Europe and America, as well as to Southern and Western Africa regions. It earned Rwf255 billion in revenue from agro-exports as at the end of September 2017.
Farmers speak out
Speaking to The New Times, Jean Gahozaho, a maize and vegetable grower in Kicukiro District, said farmers face many challenges, including prolonged dry spells and insufficient funds to buy inputs like fertilisers that would help increase yields.
On average, a farmer is expected to produce about four tonnes of maize per hectare, but Gahozaho said he harvests about two tonnes per hectare (at most) because of such problems.
“We need technical assistance, better farming technologies and funding so as to increase productivity and be able to tap into the huge export market on the continent,” he said.