Production from the agriculture and livestock sector is expected to significantly improve thanks to a new partnership that intends to have university lecturers and students perform academic activities on farms.
This outreach programme is expected to, among others, scale up research for the development of the sector and increase extension services to farmers which will impact on production.
The partnership was signed on Friday between the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI) and its affiliated institutions and the Ministry of Education and institutions of higher learning that teach agriculture related courses.
“Through this partnership and under PSTA4, we have an opportunity to move from being those classrooms-[based] professors to those carrying out practical, farm-based activities, and for our students as well as our lecturers to practice what they learn or teach in classrooms,” said Prof. Égide Karuranga, Vice Chancellor of University of Kibungo in Eastern Province.
Karuranga said that, currently, the engineers that universities and higher learning institutions teaching agriculture the country has had most (about 80 per cent) of their academic studies done in class, while only about 20 per cent is carried out on the field.
This situation, he said, has led to persistent poor farm yields and continued use of rudimentary techniques that farmers have used for 60 years.
“Now, there have been progress in technology in various fields like communication whereby people own smartphones; but, our farmers still use the hoe to plough land,” he said.
“Some farmers get as low yield as one tonne of maize per hectare, yet, there are countries that have reached 10 to 15 tonnes from the same piece of land,” he said.
The Minister for Agriculture and Animal Resources, Dr Gérardine Mukeshimana, said that the new partnership will fill gaps that existed in the quality of education that students were getting in class, and empower them with skills that match farmers’ needs to address prevailing problems.
The signatories agreed that the new initiative is one of the ways to ensure effective implementation of the Fourth Strategic Plan for Agriculture Transformation (PSTA4) which seeks to reduce poverty by more than a half from the current 39 per cent rate among Rwandans to about 15% by 2024.
The plan also targets to achieve 10 per cent agriculture growth from the average 6 per cent growth that was recorded over the last five years.
To achieve this, PSTA4 plans to leverage four key pillars namely; enabling environment and responsive institutions, productive and inclusive markets and value addition, increased productivity, diversity, sustainability and resilience of agricultural production, as well as research, innovation and empowerment.
Karuranga cited irrigation as one of the areas where practical work is needed so that internship can help practitioners muster it to make use of rainwater to foster crop production during drought.
Officials said that Rwanda Agriculture Board and National Agriculture Exports Development Board (NAEB) will partner with universities to conduct research which will help address the issue of poor coordination between researchers from university and those of both institutions.
Agriculture sector accounts for approximately 30% of the Rwanda’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and employs about 69% of the country’s labour force, according to the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda.