This week, I accidentally discovered a beautiful village tucked away in quietude, on the outskirts of Kigali; Busanza is its name. Initially, the idea was to just go visit the massive affordable housing project there but out of curiosity, decided to delve deeper into the parish and I am glad I did.
Busanza is a typical African village with Rwandan characteristics.
African village in a sense that, every homestead is attached to a sprawling plantation dominated by bananas and other food crops; after a day’s session in the garden, residents sit at local trading centers to share a pint and a good story, carefree, with their feet brown from garden dirt.
Unlike in Kigali City residential neighborhoods, households in Busanza are not separated from their next-door neighbors with tough several feet high ‘trump-border walls’ with barbed wires at the summit. Here, you can yell across to your neighbor, to help you with a matchbox or salt.
The kids here, unlike their Kigali counterparts, are happy to wave at cars as they limp-drive through their bumpy village road under the shadows of towering banana plantations.
Unlike the typical African village, every house in Busanza is brick-walled with an iron roof complete with electricity connectivity; it’s an indicator of success of the nationwide bye-bye Nyakatsi campaign. The hygiene can’t be missed, characterized by clean court-yards, a water-tap and toilet for every household, completing the look of a village with Rwandan features.
But one feature particularly stood out in this city village of Busanza. It’s a place full of mango trees, everywhere you look, there is one, currently flowering ahead of the next fruity season in a few months’ time (between December and January).
In a Kigali city where dwellers are currently buying a kilogram of mangoes (often two fruits) at Rwf3000, the Busanza mango trees present a full-colour irony for folks at NAEB who have been running a multi-billion-franc budget to promote various types of horticulture.
You simply need to get off your high-horse and have a chat with the fruit vendor at your local market to learn that they are sourcing their mangoes from either Burundi, Uganda or Tanzania; not a bad thing in the context of regional trade, but still worth exploring.
The prevalent argument is that, Rwanda doesn’t have ideal soils and conditions to support pomology (the production of pome fruits) including apples, pears, pyracanth and quince as well as stone-fruits such as mangoes, avocado, nectarines, peaches and plums.
But Busanza presents a contradiction that requires the attention of researchers at NAEB. This is a place where mangoes are thriving in complete natural conditions without enhancement by modern methods meaning that with a deliberate investment, a pomology project would succeed.
There are areas where NAEB has registered success such as floriculture (the production and marketing of flowers), olericulture (of vegetables) and lately, oenology (wine production).
And the results of success this, their success in these sub-sectors of horticulture,s visible on the market; vegetables and local wines are easily available on the market and relatively affordable to the average consumer.
But the reverse is true, where NAEB is struggling to find success. If you want to validate this assertion, go and try to buy mangoes or grapes in a local market or supermarket. Either you won’t find them at all, or the price will be too unreasonable for you to make a purchase.
This simply shows, either the lack of NAEB’s effort or failure at promoting viticulture (production of grapes) and pomology (pomes) in Rwanda, creating a situation where people must pay through the nose to afford the currently imported horticulture products in these two categories.
As Rwanda aims to build self-reliance in sectors where it can, in the ‘Made in Rwanda’ realm, the agriculture ministry, through its specialized agency, NAEB, should also develop a deliberate project to invest and promote ‘Grown in Rwanda’ products for export and home consumption.
This should start with research to debunk the largely lazy and unproven argument that grapes, pomes and stone-fruits such as mangoes don’t do well in Rwanda when areas like Busanza have the natural capacity to sustain thousands of wild mango trees.
What NAEB researchers need to do is, based on this natural capacity, try and establish a national model Mango project whose potential success could help supply Kigali’s urban fruit market that is suffering from acute scarcity of supplies and has to rely on imports to respond to demand.
With the extensive Busanza housing estate which will be home to thousands of urban dwellers, clearly, Kigali City’s scope is fast expanding, encroaching on farmland in areas like Busanza that would be better preserved for urban plantation agriculture because of their natural abilities.
Kigali’s urban expansion must be met with matching efforts of sustainable urban food supply otherwise the lack of that means we are building a city whose cost of living will be too high to afford, because of inflation on food prices such as fruits. This might already be the case.
Therefore, just as we have given Busanza potentially the country’s largest housing estate, let us also explore ways of establishing a national stone-fruit plantation on the reminder of its expansive land which is under threat of being swallowed by Kigali’s fast urban expansion.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.