By Hudson Kuteesa
Every year in October over 150 countries celebrate the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations through marking the World Food Day. Since it was founded in 1945, the FAO has worked to eradicate hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition around the globe. World Food Day is an opportunity to celebrate achievements and bring awareness to the millions who still suffer from hunger.
Today in Huye district, Southern Province the FAO, partners, and community members will rally around the global message "Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too".
In Rwanda, the agriculture sector accounts for 33% of the national GDP and employs over 70% of the population. Climate-related shocks therefore pose a threat to the country’s agricultural productivity and food security. Approximately 9.1 million people live in rural areas and the majority are engaged in the agriculture sector. As poverty remains largely a rural phenomenon, climate change makes already vulnerable people more susceptible to droughts, floods, and other disasters.
FAO-Rwanda is committed to supporting the Government of Rwanda’s response to these shocks. Through climate-smart agriculture, sustainable livelihoods, nutrition, and more, FAO-Rwanda provides cross-cutting technical expertise to build resilience among families and communities across the country through its various projects as elaborated.
Safety Net Intervention Program in Gakenke district
When flooding and landslides struck Gakenke district in mid-2016, farmers lost crops in their fields and struggled to transport their harvest to markets. Since then, the district has been making efforts to recover and in September, the FAO began a safety net intervention programme to support 4,317 households affected by these climate related disasters.
FAO’s support enables vulnerable farmers to rebuild crop production systems that were jeopardized by the heavy rainfall. The programme will increase food availability and food access for farming households through the distribution of farm inputs (farming tools, improved drought tolerant seeds, and fertilizers) and a cash-for work scheme.
Gervis Nuwagaba, the District Agricultural Officer of Gakenke in an interview with The New Times recollected the memories of the dire effects of the landslides and how the FAO support has been so helpful.
"The disaster brought about many deaths of people and animals. There was destruction of crops and structures and as a result, many people were lacking food and shelter. FAO was one of the organizations that came in to help," he said,
"We directed them to 3 most affected sectors; Gashenyi, Karambo and Nemba where they are assisting farmers to recover rhythm of life in terms of agriculture and restructuring their land to prevent future harm on the land. They have provided experts who among other things trained our farmers how to dig terraces and trenches. They are becoming experts who can extend this knowledge to people in other areas of the country," he said.
FAO has supplied the beneficiaries with up to 142.9 metric tons of fertilizers of DAP, 50 tonnes of urea, 20 tonnes of fortified seeds (beans rich in iron), 25 tonnes of maize seed.
Besides, beneficiaries are paid for their participation in the rehabilitation work, an initiative Catherine Uwimana, the district vice mayor in charge of social affairs, believes will enable them have food among other necessities of life.
She described the whole intervention as a "Long term way of disaster management" that will not only keep landslides away but also improve people’s livelihoods in the district.
These interventions are meant to ensure that farming households can cultivate their fields and will be food secure during the three month period before harvest. Equally important is that the community rehabilitation work will prevent future destruction from heavy rainfall.
On the field, farmers are always busy working; making terraces on hills as well as trenches in marshlands. They start work from 7 am and finish at 1 pm.
Damascene Ngirimana, one of the workers digging the terraces on a steep hill near the Base stream in Gashenyi sector said he is confident that when the rainy season comes back, it will not again threaten the area as it did before.
"The terraces help reduce the speed and volume of the water so that by the time it reaches the valley, it cannot cause harm." He said.
Theogene Kanyamuhande the leader of the working groups said work always goes well. Every single, a worker digs 4 terraces. The work is speedily running towards completion.
Forest Landscape Restoration and Sustainable Food and Agriculture in Rulindo district
In Rulindo, FAO and district officials are proving that sustainability and resilience can be the heart of all development activities. The Yanze Catchment in Rulindo is the life source of the district’s agriculture activities and provides 70% of the water used in Kigali City. FAO works in the area around Umurindi River, a tributary of Yanze River. The area is defined by steep hills, eroding riverbanks, land degradation, and runoff from human activities making land and water conservation crucial.
Since 2010, FAO has implemented a variety of sustainable land and agro ecosystem management activities in Rulindo to address these concerns. Activities include agroforestry, construction of bench and progressive terraces, integrated soil fertility management, crop-livestock integration, river bank protection, and participatory learning through farmer field schools.
Jean Bosco Biramahirwe, president Abadahigwa Mubuhinzi, a beneficiary cooperative told The New Times that the project has taught them to cultivate in modern ways like application of fertilizers among other practices which help them to increase production.
"And after learning, we teach others," he said.
Under the current Forest and Landscape Restoration (FLR)/Sustainable Food and Agriculture (SFA) project, FAO supports farmers in Yanze catchment to improve vegetable production and marketing. Through the construction of a vegetable collection unit, the community now has an enhanced vegetable value chain.
The center helps farmers secure a higher market price for their vegetables and buyers will enjoy higher quality produce from reduced transportation.
Twizeyimana Marcel, the leader of Nyakagezi in Karambo sector said that since the vegetable collection unit was put in place, vegetables reach Kigali in good shape,
"Rain used to destroy the vegetables and they could reach Kigali in a bad shape but now they are sheltered and reach Kigali in good shape," he said.
The project also provided 9 dairy cows to the community to increase milk production and to demonstrate the advantage of organic manure in improving soil fertility. FAO plans to build on this effort by supporting livestock diversification with a focus on small animals. The activity will emphasize distribution of stocks, sustainable livestock management, and affordability.
Finally, under FLR/SFA, community members are trained on environmentally friendly income generating activities like mushroom production and were introduced to high yielding and disease tolerant banana varieties.
By pairing economic development with natural resource management, FAO and Rulindo district illustrate that eradicating poverty, improving food security, and protecting the environment are complementary goals.
Support for Enhancing Small Scale Irrigation Technologies in Rwanda (Eastern Province)
In 2014 the Government of Rwanda adopted the "Subsidized Farmer led Small Scale Irrigation Development Program" to better manage critical water resources and increase productivity. The program aims at improve the resilience of small farmers by developing 20,000 ha of affordable and sustainable irrigation technologies (SSITs).
Since the majority of agriculture production in Rwanda is rain-fed and takes place on small and fragmented farms, these technologies will safeguard cultivation against drought and be applicable to the small scale farm. Higher food and cash crop productivity will improve food security and alleviate poverty.
Currently the FAO is providing technical assistance and capacity building in irrigation technologies in Kirehe, Nyagatare, and Kayonza districts. Farmers and cooperatives receive FAO support through SSI equipment and trainings on how to conduct SSIT farming as a business including farm planning, technology operation, harvesting, marketing, and trade of produce.
Under this project, this month, Amizero Iwacu Farmers’ Cooperative in Nyagatare received irrigation equipment worth 20 million Rwf. The equipment included six generators, 12 rain guns, and 240 pipes to irrigate 64 hectares of farm land in order to area expand and stabilise production capacity by reducing reliance on rainfall.
"The equipment will help us a lot in the dry season. We shall use them to irrigate our crops as a corporative as well as crops of our individual members or others within the community." said Marie Claire Nyiranzabandora, an accountant for the corporative.
Didas Kayitare the Nyagatare District Vice Mayor for Social Affairs referred to the initiative as "a great step"towards the modernisation of agriculture in rural areas of the country as well as helping in achieving financial inclusion of the population, both of which are key aspects of Rwanda’s long-term development agenda.
A Future of Change
The FAO is excited to celebrate World Food Day 2016 and mark another year of achievement, collaboration, and learning. However, "Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too" is about more than one day. The FAO intends to build upon its successes in adapting to and confronting climate change. And, working closely with the Government of Rwanda across sectors, we are certain we can achieve food security, resiliency, and prosperity for all.