Rwanda and Israel yesterday launched Center of Excellence for Horticultural Development with ambitions to increase production through modern technology and research.
Billed as MASHAV’s biggest sponsored project in Africa, the initiative is expected to deploy modern technology and improve the wellbeing of farmers.
MASHAV is a Hebrew acronym for Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation.
The Mulindi-based centre will serve both commercial and smallholder horticulture farmers.
Amb. Gil Haskel, the Deputy Director General at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the initiative is a testimony for the excellent relations between the two countries.
In addition, the project is expected to address the challenges revolving around food and water insecurity.
The seed funding alone, he disclosed, is valued at $2 million.
“In this age, technology can do wonders in the field of agriculture. We can multiply, triple or even have ten times more yield in one plot of land through technology,” Haskel, who is also the Head of MASHAV said, adding that; “This is the idea of this centre of excellence.”
It could add impetus to Rwanda’s efforts to diversify its export revenues, currently dominated by traditional exports such as coffee, tea and minerals.
Horticulture crops such as fruits and vegetables are considered high-value crops, meaning they generate more revenues than others on the same size farmland than other crops.
Given that Rwanda has small land, experts argue, shifting to crops such French beans, fresh peas, tomato, carrots, cucumber, eggplants, pepper, and mushrooms as well as fruits can propel agriculture productivity.
Rwanda targets 46,314 tonnes of horticulture output and an annual export revenue of $130 million by 2024, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources.
The centre is based on the Indo-Israel model of “Centres of Excellence in Agriculture,’’. It involves transfer of knowledge—capacity building and demonstration—and agro-inputs such as nurseries for better seedlings and varieties as we as fresh produce.
Patrick Karangwa, the Director General of Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), said Rwanda considers Israel as a great partner in is ambition to transform agriculture
The government plans to setup affiliated small centres in different parts of the country to accelerate technological and skills transfer.
Close to 600 trainees have so far benefited from the centre’s training, according to Gerardine Mukeshimana, the Mister of Agriculture and Animal Resources.
Majority of them, she said, are coming from universities while others are from farmers' cooperatives and the rest from companies that deal in horticulture commodities such as exporters.
The horticulture industry has been growing steadily. For instance, the Minister said, in 2015 Rwanda generated $5 million form horticulture exports before the figure sharply increased to $23 million in 2018.
“In a three-year time, we managed to quadruple what we had in 2015. What it means is that this is an area that can grow very fast, and as a country we have ambitious target of what we want to achieve as horticulture production.
Marie Rose Uwitonze, a farmer and an accountant of Abadasigana ba Kinyinya, a vegetable and fruit growers cooperative told The New Times that the training she received from the centre has been important in raising farm revenues.
The cooperative has 55 members which among other crops grow French beans, bell pepper, cabbage, cucumber and watermelon.
“Drought is among the challenges we used to face. With drip irrigation, and greenhouse farming technology skills we have gained, we can withstand the effects of climate change and ensure sustainable farming,” she said.
However, she observed that the cost of applying technologies to farming is still high and discourages some farmers from adopting it, thus calling for subsidies to bring it.