FEATURED: Farmers pledge to sustain gains under JICA’s SMAP project

Theoneste Habiyaremye, the president of Mushikiri Rice Growers Cooperative, a cooperative with 723 farmers from Mushikiri Sector in Kirehe District is a happy man. Cooperative members owe the smile to their faces to the unprecedented increase of yield, which grew from 160 tons to 725 tons of rice per season from their 140 hectares.  

They attributes this turn in fortunes to a project, Smallholder Market Oriented Agriculture Project (SMAP), to which they were part of the 202 rice and horticulture cooperatives countrywide that benefitted.

The five-year project that is set to come to an end in October 2019 is funded by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and mainly focused on horticulture and rice farming.

The overall aim of the project that aimed at changing the farmer’s mindset from one of “Grow and Sell” to “Grow to Sell” is to ensure the farmers are market oriented in everything they do, which had led to them selling more to get more implements, which has in turn boosted their production and their profit as well.

“To start with, prior to the project, we planted rice in a disorganized way; which the project helped us streamline,” said Habiyaremye, adding they used to overfill the rice seedlings which yielded less produce.

“But after SMAP training on rice cultivation techniques he said, “it increased the production in term of quality and weight.” Besides being encouraged to improve their farming strategies, Habiyaremye said, the farmers were taught to work together during the processes like harvesting and looking for market.

Habiyaremye said that the fact that the project is ending will not affect them at all: “We already have the skills, and we still have the handouts we can read in case we need to.”

Jean-Marie Vianney Nyamurasa is the head of Duhuzimbaraga, a vegetable cooperative that has 22 members, eight of which women, which operates in Ntebe, Muhazi Sector in Rwamagana District.

He said that despite practicing farming for many years, they did it poorly and this reflected on the yield they got, until they were tipped on best practices through the project. “Our production has massively increased; like three times,” he declared. Fukumoto Masaya, co-team leader of SMAP Project, said that one year after the introduction of the project in Kirehe and Rwamagana, incomes for horticulture farmers increased by 4.8 and 2.3 times, respectively.

Sustainability

According to Fukumoto, the fifth year of the project mainly focused on ensuring the sustainability of the SMAP.

“We continued capacity building for Rwanda Agriculture Board officers through ‘Training of Trainers’ so that they can be able to conduct SMAP activity on their own,” he stated.

All districts are recommended to continue SMAP activities by signing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with RAB, he said. The MoU clarifies roles and responsibilities—financial and human resource—of district office and RAB, to implement SMAP activity by their own efforts.

“We pledge to work hard to preserve the achievement of this programme,” declared Cyprien Muhayimana, director of agriculture and natural resources in Kayonza District.

District representatives who admired the project’s achievement, argued that: “To achieve the sustainability of the project, the executive leaders of districts, the technicians such as agriculture directors and agronomists at the districts, as well as beneficiaries, need ownership so it will keep working and being fruitful like it is today.”

Thierry Mugiraneza, the RAB, Ngoma Station Manager, which operates in districts of Ngoma, Kayonza and Kirehe, commended the project for demonstrating how best Farmer Field School (FFS) should be done.“In the Ministry of Agriculture, FFS is main tool of making a certain technique known,” he clarified.

“In addition, they introduced an important thing; thinking about market before you cultivate the field, which means that when a farmer goes to the field, they do it with intention of making profit,” he stated. “RAB’s trained team will go all over the country to teach, but it will depend on how districts will organize themselves,” he announced, imploring both RAB and district to make it a priority.

During the project period, SMAP Project team in collaboration with RAB staff developed a Market oriented Agriculture Package including rice & horticulture cultivation techniques, marketing,  organization, cooperative management and gender training . These training materials have been presented to the Rwandan count parts as well as RAB officers and district leaders; in one day workshops organized in each province.

Rice farmers’ cooperatives directly trained through the project were from the districts of Rwamagana, Kirehe, Kayonza, Gisagara, Huye and Ruhango. In horticulture, the farmers who were trained by the SMAP team are Rwamagana, Kirehe, Musanze, Rulindo, Nyamasheke and Rubavu.

For the remaining parts of the country, farmers were trained through districts and RAB agriculture extension officers.