In an area with history of prolonged droughts, horticulture is fast becoming a solution for both environmental conservation and a lifeline for household economies in Rwinkwavu Sector, Kayonza District.
Almost every household in this area has at least one fruit tree, however, with uncertainty of other crops’ productivity due to climate change; many residents are gradually resorting to professional farming of fruits resilient to sunshine such as mangoes, oranges and avocadoes.
Anastase Munyaneza, 45, is a farmer from Rusera Village, Gihinga Cell in Rwinkwavu.
He started in 2016 with 1,100 orange trees on two hectares. Today he has two more hectares on which he has also grown 420 avocado trees that are yet to yield.
“I chose to specialize in fruit farming because I found them productive, but more especially because our area is exposed to too much drought and these fruits are so resilient that I harvest while others are counting losses,” he said.
June and July 2020 was the first season that Munyaneza harvested his oranges that he planted in 2016, and he cashed in Rwf2.4 million; he expects better yield in the next seasons since the older the tree, the better the harvest.
Munyaneza is currently the head of Kopairwi, a registered cooperative of more than 50 fruit farmers in the area.
Jean Baptiste Nsengimana, 33, one of the members of the cooperative, started growing fruits “professionally” in 2010, today he grows 500 mango trees on 1.5 hectares, and 250 of the trees are mature, while the rest are a little younger.
He told The New Times, that once the trees are about two years old, no matter how severe the drought has been, the trees will start giving yield.
According to Nsengimana, they started growing fruits mainly to get shade from which they would seek refuge from the scorching sunshine.
“We needed trees to bring back fresh air and to protect us from sunshine and dust, and the tree would help us get more rainfall,” he explained adding that little did they know that these would be a major source of livelihood.
Nsengimana said he has used proceeds from his fruit farming to pay for his university, and he has managed to buy one-hectare land.
“Fruits are necessary in everybody’s life, they have high demand too, that is another reason we chose them,” he added.
Cesaria Nyiransabimana, a mother of six hailing from Rusera Village, Gihinga Cell in Rwinkwavu Sector, has 300 mature trees of orange and many avocadoes that she has grown on one hectare.
At first, Nyiransabimana planted 150 trees, they withered before they reached maturity and determined, she planted more once again, and today, the first harvest has given her Rwf150,000.
She hopes to get more in the subsequent seasons.
“Because many people around here are seeing how productive fruits are, more are joining and there is never shortage of market,” she said.
The Executive Secretary of Rwinkwavu Sector, Claude Bizimana, told The New Times, to date, every household has fruits.
“The trees mean economic development to the families because they make money from fruits they sell.”
There are 7,385 households in Rwinkwavu and the population of more than 32,600.
This also improved nutrition in the families, and according to Bizimana, they have done “well” in the fight against malnutrition among children in the sector thanks to the fruits.
Prolonged drought had for years devastated families in Rwinkwavu and this even became worse in the past few years, when the drought was more severe.
As a result, families in Rwinkwavu make the biggest number of those that received food relief from government between 2017 and 2018.
“This year has particularly been a good one in agricultural productivity. People last season got good produce from all crops, but it is mainly the result of a large number of trees planted,” he said.
At the turn of the millennium in the year 2000 Rwinkwavu, was almost uninhabited and much of it was covered by lush green savannah and many trees.
However, the more the population grew the more the trees were encroached on by human activity, and was finally almost depleted.
Of recent, the sector authorities have worked with Kayonza District and other partners to reforest the area.
The main contributors of the fruit seedlings in the efforts to reforest the area are the Kayonza District, Clinton Foundation, National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB) and the Project for Rural Income through Exports (PRICE) implemented by NAEB.
PRICE has been operational since 2012, promoting coffee, tea, fruits, vegetables, sericulture and essential oils, by, among others, providing grants to farmers across the country to expand their agribusinesses.
This is the project that is distributing seedlings to farmers in Rwinkwavu who were interested in growing fruits as a profession and has been sensitizing them on the benefits of horticulture.
As a result, Munyaneza said he chose to uproot his banana plantation to plant fruits.
“As we speak, a permanent tree nursery was established in Rwinkwavu, such that no resident will lack seedlings. Every household will have to plant at least three fruit trees,” he declared.
With their commitment to ensuring the sustainability of the existing trees, Bizimana said they hope that they will never face the same problem again.
According to Jean Nepomuscene Ruzirabwoba, a cash crop officer in Kayonza District, most of the fruits in Rwinkwavu were planted in 2016-2017 and many are having their first harvest.
“No doubt it will be better if entrepreneurs build a fruit collection centre which will help farmers sell their produce in a streamlined way. That way they get a better price,” he said.
Except for avocados that have a ready buyer who exports them, Ruzirabwoba said other fruits are sold locally and in a way that is not structured.
Let alone the trees grown in homes, there are currently 4,270 mature avocado trees grown in farms, which yielded 105 tonnes last season.
There are also 18,333 mature orange trees that harvested 615 tonnes, while the sector harvested over 90 tonnes of mangoes from over 3,800 trees.Follow DeDiosNsabimana