The rise and rise of the agriculture sector in 2018

A woman picks tea in a plantation in Rutsiro District. Significant increase in farm exports and the launch of a 2.7 trillion fourth Strategic Plan for Agriculture Transformation (PSTA 4) are among the major milestones in Rwanda’s agriculture sector for the year 2018. Emmanuel Kwizera.

Significant increase in farm exports and the launch of a 2.7 trillion fourth Strategic Plan for Agriculture Transformation (PSTA 4) are among the major milestones in Rwanda’s agriculture sector for the year 2018.

Rwanda’s agricultural exports in 2017/2018 fiscal year amounted to $515.9 million (approx. Rwf447 billion), an increase of 44.7 per cent compared to $356.5 million (over Rwf316.8 billion) generated in 2016-2017, according to statistics from the National Agriculture Export Development Board (NAEB).

The PSTA 4 – which is a six-year agriculture development plan that will need a budget estimated to Rwf2, 776 billion (or Rwf2.7 trillion) – is expected to reduce poverty to 15 percent by 2024 from the current 38.2 percent.

Still talking about exports, statistics from NAEB indicate that non- traditional exports generated over $354.7 million (about Rwf307.5 billion) – which is 68.75 percent of total exports – from July 2017 to June 2018, representing 59.97 per cent increase compared to $221.7 million (Rwf192.2 billion) that was generated from July 2016 to June 2017.

Non-traditional export commodities refer to commodities that were previously produced solely for domestic consumption and have recently entered the export market. They are considered diversified export commodities.

These include fruits, vegetables, roots and tubers, legumes and cereals, meat, eggs and dairy products as well as live animals.

Total traditional exports – commodities that Rwanda is known to have been exporting over years – which are tea, coffee and pyrethrum provided $161.2 million in the 2017-2018 period compared to $134.7 million in the 2016-2017 period, an increase of 20 percent.

Tuzamurane Cooperative of pineapple farmers in Kirehe District, for instance, increased its dried pineapple exports to France from more than 14,000 kilograms for more than Rwf166.3 million in 2017 to 24,240 kilograms which generated over Rwf290.7 million in 2018, Albert Kamana, Agronomist and Documentation Officer at Tuzamurane Cooperative told The New Times.

“We plan to increase our export volumes from 24 tonnes per year [currently] to 48 tonnes in 2019,” Kamana said.

The fourth Strategic Plan for Agriculture Transformation (PSTA 4)

Coming back to the plan, it targets to achieve an average of 10 percent agricultural growth over the next six years, compared to 6 percent growth which agriculture output has been registered, on average, over the last six years.

In line with achieving productivity and resilience, the strategy aims at among other realisations, raising irrigated farm area from about 50,000 hectares currently to 102,284 hectares so as to reduce reliance on rain-fed agriculture which has a negative impact on food security; and increase fish production by 300 per cent from 27,000 metric tonnes to 112,000 metric tonnes by 2024.

As 30 per cent of farmers have less than 0.2 hectares of farmland and exploit 5.4 per cent of arable land in Rwanda, increasing labour and land productivities on those tiny plots will require special tactics, according to this strategy which involves prioritising high value commodities like horticulture, or poultry.

To increase animal production, social security, and mitigating protein deficiency at the household level, the Girinka model will be extended to include small-stock animals whereby 5.4 million chickens and 1.25 million pigs are to be distributed alongside 189,000 cows.

The Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources; Jean Claude Musabyimana told members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Environment recently that there was need for support to enable this plan to work.

“We will need advocacy from Members of Parliament, and other concerned players so that the means needed to achieve the targets set under the strategic plan work out, because it requires a lot of money,” he said.

Talking about the importance of PSTA 4, the Secretary-General of Imbaraga Farmers Organisation; Joseph Gafaranga, said that it will integrate young farmers into agribusiness, promote insurance of agriculture to protect farmers from huge losses inflicted by disasters and diseases, as well as advance use of ICT to optimize farm productivity, among other interventions.

“In Eastern and Southern provinces, drought has been prevalent and affecting farmers as it ruins their investments and, their hope for good harvests fade. Landslides and floods in Northern and Western Rwanda are also threatening agriculture production,” he said.

He added that banks were reluctant to lend to the agriculture sector because of lack of profit assurance as the sector is very risky compared to others, which the insurance scheme will help address.

Institute for Conservation Agriculture launched

The year 2018 saw the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of a multi-million dollar Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA), an agriculture specialised tertiary institution which will combine research, education and extension services to increase farming communities’ income, improve their livelihoods as well as make the country both food and nutrition secure.

Conservation agriculture embodies a set of crop and livestock production practices which maintain or improve the soil and water resources upon which crop and livestock production systems rely.

The institute is being set up in Bugesera District thanks to a partnership between the Government of Rwanda and America-based Howard G. Buffett Foundation (HGBF) – a private family establishment working to improve the standard of living and quality of life for the world’s most needy populations.

The foundation is funding the institute with $87.6 million to cover construction and the first five years of operation, and a further commitment of $40 million for additional operational support.

Students will earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Conservation Agriculture in a three year accredited program.

It is expected that, programme implementers argue, all RICA graduates will be innovative problem solvers able to operate farms and ranches, start agribusinesses, assume management roles in cooperatives and other agricultural enterprises, serve their communities as extension agents and technical and policy experts, or assume positions of agricultural leadership in Rwanda.

Permanent Secretary Musabyimana said that the programme will change the mindset of people such that agriculture will attract young professional farmers.

“The student will get farm management skills from land preparation to selecting seeds to grow, irrigation, tackling diseases, handling farm produce and marketing it,” he explained.

He said that recruitment for the people to enroll in the programme has started online such that next year, it will start admitting students.

Staple food crop production performance

On performance of some staple crops, for instance, figures from the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources on recorded harvests as of November 2018 show the following:

Cassava produce reached more than 1.12 million tonnes in 2018 from 1.04 million in 2017; rice yield increased to 113,880 tonnes in 2018 from 83,338 tonnes in 2017, while beans produce went down from 502,408 tonnes in 2017 to 484,729 tonnes in 2018.

Cooking banana yield went up from 724,544 tonnes in 2017 to 759,696 tonnes in 2018, and Irish potato produce was recorded at 835,576 tonnes in 2018, which is higher than 776,722 tonnes in 2017.

Maize yielded 424,204 tonnes in 2018 down from 357,665 tonnes in 2017, while soybean produced 22,583 in 2018 from 19,932 tonnes in 2017.