A group of local graduates has joined hands to help boost food security and increase sustainable farming practices in the country.
The trio of Annet Mukamurenzi, Gerard Ndayishimiye and Yvette Abizeyimana are graduates from EARTH University, Costa Rica, where they studied agricultural science and natural resource management.
After identifying key challenges in the local agricultural scene, the youths set up Rwanda Youth Initiative for Agricultural Transformation (RYIAT) in 2015 while they were still students.
The idea was to help increase food production, provide clean energy to farmers, and create employment for youth through a sustainable farming model.
Over 80 per cent of the country’s population depends on agriculture for livelihood, and the sector is suffering from volatile weather patterns, use of traditional farming methods, and population pressure.
“As young agronomists, we wanted to contribute toward efforts to address the challenges facing the country’s agriculture sector. When a team from the Ministry of Agriculture visited EARTH University in 2015, we saw an opportunity to share the knowledge gained in Costa Rica with our compatriots back home,” Annet Mukamurenzi said.
The organisation’s vision has caught the eye of several development partners, including MasterCard Foundation.
This was largely due to their academic know-how, the social consciousness of the initiative and vision, which targets opening at least one sustainable teaching farm in each of Rwanda’s four provinces as well as Kigali city.
In 2017, RYIAT won the Resolution Social Venture Challenge at the MasterCard Foundation Baobab Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, a competition that recognises compelling leadership and promising social ventures led by youth.
The trio earned a fellowship that includes seed funding, mentorship, and access to a network of young global change-makers to pursue impactful projects in their communities.
The collaboration between the MasterCard Foundation and The Resolution Project, the Resolution Social Venture Challenge provides a pathway to action for socially responsible young leaders who want to create a positive change in their communities.
RYIAT has already put together a team of young Rwandan agricultural experts, which will be deployed across the country to equip farmers with sustainable and modern farming skills, roll out new strategies as well as the technologies to develop sustainable solutions to hunger while protecting the environment.
The training centre is based in Kigali, where a project prototype of an urban farm is being used to demonstrate different food growing techniques in small areas for maximum and quality yields.
“We believe it’s a sustainable model farm because it will be socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable. You can use recycled materials like plastic bags or bottles. With this system, farmers may not need soil. Farmers can use rice husks mixed with organic fertiliser from animal waste and cultivate without a need for soil,” explained Gerard Ndayishimiye.
The team plans on boosting the productivity of land using the latest agricultural practices.
For instance, a hectare of land produces 800 kilogrammes of maize yet with better practices, it can produce two to three tonnes, they say.
The training will empower women with skills to produce enough food that will allow them to sell the surplus.
Among the farming methods that the agronomists are introducing include the Mandala system, which originated in India and allows farmers to cultivate different crops in a circle form, with crop rings moving from the centre to the outside of the circle.
The project will also train families on how to use biogas as a clean energy source, helping communities to make the leap from wood fuel.
According to Ndayishimiye, up to 90 per cent of Rwandans depend on wood fuel as a source of energy, which contributes to deforestation and shifting rainfall patterns, creating conditions for environmental catastrophes like mudslides. Burning wood has also been cited as a contributor to air pollution and negatively impacting climate change.
Mukamurenzi is confident that the project will be self-sustaining as it will generate funds through several avenues, like farm produce, agri-tourism, internships and workshops, and funding from NGOs and government ministries.
“We teach by example. We set the example of how farming generates money. This will be done through efficient and market-oriented production, which also covers value addition for our products to ensure high income,” said Mukamurenzi.
“Youth have to develop an approach to farming that is profitable. We teach that approach with examples, showing farmers that their crops can generate revenue for them.
“We intend to work with farmers to get involved in other aspects of agricultural production, namely by getting farmers involved in all activities, from harvesting and processing to packaging and marketing. By creating greater value for farmers’ crops, they can earn a higher income,” she added.
The team is also sharing skills and best practices by hosting farmers, partners and experts at their demonstration farm.
They say they want to earn income by charging different fees to learn various agricultural skills, selling arts and crafts products made under their brand name, RYIAT Rwanda, and by adding value to products from their farm.
Profits generated by RYIAT will sustain the cooperative, they say, “laying the financial groundwork for the organisation to grant scholarships and teach deserving youth who may not otherwise have the means to learn the craft of farming.”
Young Rwandans who have been enlisted to participate in the initiative are upbeat about the initiative.
Thomas Simbankayo, a graduate in veterinary medicine from Umutara Polytechnic, said the initiative gives the youth involved in agriculture a chance to maximise the sector’s potential.