Members of the Chamber of Deputies yesterday asked agriculture and trade ministers to give them a written explanation of their strategies to transform the country’s agriculture sector.
The decision, which was reached after a two-day grilling as the two ministers appeared before the Lower House, means that the legislators are intensifying their investigation into the reasons behind current faults in agriculture and businesses related to the sector.
On Thursday and Friday, the Minister for Agriculture and Animal Resources, Gérardine Mukeshimana, and the Minister of Trade and Industry, Soraya Hakuziyaremye, appeared before the House to explain reasons behind poor post-harvest handling of agricultural produce, its marketing, and value addition.
But when the two ministers were done giving their explanations in words, the MPs were not satisfied with them and pushed for better documented answers, essentially intensifying their investigation.
The MPs are pushing the ministers to give a timeline and roadmap on addressing the identified concerns in the agriculture and livestock sector value chains and be held accountable in the future if deadlines are not met.
During the hearing, many MPs brought to the ministers’ attention several examples where investments in agriculture have become losses as produce such as wheat, maize, and milk don’t always get buyers often because they don’t meet the quality required by industrialists.
On the other hand, the road infrastructure to deliver the goods is not good enough and a problem where certain farmers have produce but can’t access markets becomes the challenge.
Then comes the issue of lack of insurance for agricultural activities and farmers are increasingly becoming accustomed to counting losses without anyone bailing them out.
But in post parliamentary session interviews with journalists yesterday, both ministers indicated that current challenges in the agriculture sector are based on the fact that the country is at a stage where farmers are realising that agriculture is now a business and all they need is more empowerment on how to do it.
Both ministers indicated that farmers’ cooperatives need to be empowered in order to be at the centre of the industry’s management, right from crop and animal production, to post-harvest handling and value addition to marketing.
Minister Hakuziyaremye said that there is need to debunk perception from reality if the agriculture sector is to be transformed and it’s time for farmers to now understand that they are business managers.
She said the government’s part will be in empowering people in agricultural skills, agro-processing, business management and marketing, but the bottom line is for farmers and their cooperative managers to be skilled enough.
“Every person needs to understand that we have to equip our coops with the right skills to trade. Let’s equip our farmers to be good business people because they are now in business,” she said in an interview after the grilling in Parliament.
She also said that more investments are needed in research and skills development to ensure that companies in agribusiness have knowledge and then empowered to access financing.
“The government is going to keep focused on priority sectors and we will implement strategies in phases,” she said about the government’s plans to transform the sector.
MP Théogène Munyangeyo had suggested that serious investments are needed to ensure support for research and provision of proper guidance to farmers.
“Over 65 per cent of Rwandans are in the agriculture sector. There are a lot of things we need to get right. There is need for research to identify produce that is needed by the market and provide guidance on how to produce it,” he said.
The agriculture sector contributes about 30 per cent to the country’s economy, making it the second biggest contributor after the services sector.
Minister Mukeshimana explained in an interview after the grilling that the two biggest challenges in the sector include the lack of qualified human resource and limited funding.
“We need to keep empowering our farmers and our people to ensure that they are responsible enough. We will keep training people and this may take long but after a few years the agriculture sector will attract more skilled people and things will improve,” she said.
She said that the government, at the level of the Ministry of Finance, is working on an agriculture financing and agriculture subsidy study, which may soon reveal how to best boost the sector with financing to cater for its challenges.
As part of the MPs’ investigations, a report done by the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Environment at the Lower House in November and December last year indicated that some agro-processing factories in the country worked below capacity among other challenges in the sector.