Dr Gualbert Gbehounou was last month appointed the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Representative to Rwanda. In an interview with The New Times’ Emmanuel Ntirenganya, he outlines his plans, including promoting integrated farming practices where farmers can engage in food production, livestock and fish through efficient use of water.
Below are the excerpts.
What are you bringing on board as far as advancement of the agriculture sector in Rwanda is concerned?
I am bringing on board my knowledge and personal experience to support agriculture in Rwanda. And, we want agriculture production in Rwanda to be sustainable.
Sustainable means that we are getting our increased productivity, but, we are not damaging the environment. We’ll make sure that farmers are making money out of agribusiness and we have social sustainability, which means that agriculture should be able to create and maintain jobs in the sector.
Smallholder farmers still struggle with yield and income. What will be your contribution to ensuring that such farmers increase their farm yield?
We know that farm sizes are relatively small in Rwanda, and, at the same time, we need to increase farm production. That is why increasing productivity is important.
It means that for each piece of agricultural land we should be able to get more, better with less. Let me elaborate: if you have a small farm size, the first thing you need to do is to make sure that you adopt, for example, integrated agriculture production model. When I say integrated I mean crop production should be integrated with livestock and aquaculture.
When you have water, you have the possibility to integrate aquaculture, which has so many possibilities such as fish farming. So, for each piece of land, let’s make sure that we produce crops, we produce animals, and we produce fish.
That’s not systematically the case as things stand now, from what I’ve seen from my field visits.
How can smallholder farmers increase their income?
Whenever you have small farm sizes, like in Rwanda, you integrate farm to the extent possible that you also go for what we call high value crops. Of course, farmers need to produce for their own food security and nutrition, but there are high value crops that they can get high income from.
Just take sectors like pepper, which is a spice, and medicinal plants, such as Artemisia used to treat malaria. So, they (smallholder farmers) should target high value crops that they can get higher income from as compared to what I call conventional crops such as rice and maize.
Farmers can even engage in what I call contract farming for specific high value crops demanded either at the national level or on the international market.
We do have the possibility to increase productivity because water is available. We just need to decide on the right crop and the right variety to improve our agribusiness.
Farmers have been facing post-harvest losses of as high as 40 per cent of their produce as they grapple with poor market linkages, and lack of technologies to safely keep their farm produce. How can they be protected from such losses?
It’s just unacceptable that what the farmer has endeavoured to produce is lost during storage, during post-harvest processing period. There is no point in producing and lose your produce. It’s just like burning money or throwing your money away.
But, we have solutions. This requires capacity building, training farmers on the best way they can minimise post-harvest losses.
One of the best ways to minimise post-harvest losses is processing.
Let’s give the example of what we call highly perishable produce, for instance tomatoes. In many African countries, you have tomato harvest periods where it is really abandoned on the market. And if farmers don’t manage to sell their tomato production for a number of days, then, and they lose their produce.
But, there is a possibility for them to process these tomatoes. We all buy ketchup from the market … we can process our tomato to minimise losses.
A conference organised by FAO, dubbed “Youth Employment in Agriculture as a Solid Solution to ending Hunger and Poverty in Africa,” is taking place in Rwanda from August 20 to 21, 2018. Why does it focus on youth and ICT?
Now, we have a mind-set that considers farming as something that does not provide enough income or money to the youth, and the youth tend not to like the agriculture sector.
The conference will focus on use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) so as to improve agribusiness. It means to help anyone, particularly the youth engaged in agriculture, to improve agriculture production and to make money.
ICTs have a huge potential, for example, to allow any youth engaged in agriculture, to remote control their farm, to save time on whatever, they are doing, to quickly access the market be it at the national level or international level; ICTs improve information and knowledge, and they say that information is power.