How RAB has empowered farmers into better farming practices, crop protection, improved yields and incomes

For many years, farmers were practicing farming without a defined formula to determine crop nutrient needs and monitor the way given crop varieties respond to environment around them.The effects of this approach were that farmers would apply pesticides or insecticides any time they see insects and pests in their gardens, or abandon a given crop without exactly knowing why it was not giving desired yields.

Caption: Chemical spraying in Matimba irrigation scheme for the control of caterpillars in soybean crop

By Emmanuel Ntirenganya
 
For many years, farmers were practicing farming without a defined formula to determine crop nutrient needs and monitor the way given crop varieties respond to environment around them.
 
The effects of this approach were that farmers would apply pesticides or insecticides any time they see insects and pests in their gardens, or abandon a given crop without exactly knowing why it was not giving desired yields.

 

Yet, experts say that there are insects which are beneficial to crops which farmers are not aware of. Only 3% of insects are harmful to people, crops and livestock.
 
Twigire Muhinzi Projection

 

A new model emerged, which has revolutionized farming practices through empowering farmers to be at the centre of crop protection and productivity.
 
It came under the name of ‘Twigire Muhinzi’ – an agricultural extension model built on the best of the Farmer Promoter (FP) and the Farmer Field School (FFS) approaches. Both approaches are implemented by Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB).
 
This approach is one of the means to achieving the goal of the Government’s Seven Year Programme, 2010-2017 in agriculture, which states that; "The Government will continue to promote modern farming and animal breeding activities so that farmers and animal breeders become professionals in their businesses and make these activities profitable to farmers and to the country in general.  The programme also states that agricultural production will increase in quality and quantity, processed for added value, with storage and marking so that more off-farm jobs are created to develop the country.”
 
FP approach’s motto is “seeing is believing”, while FFS approach’s motto is “the plant is the teacher”.
 
Farm production increases by over 12% under farmer promoter approach, and 37% for FFS approach.

 

According to information from RAB, an estimated $38 million (about Rwf31 billion) in additional farm revenue per season is registered thanks to these agriculture extension model interventions.

About 1.1 million farmers in 75,800 groups were benefiting from the Farmer Promoter approach, while 250,000 farmers (representing 11% of Rwandan farmers) convened in 10,000 groups, were benefiting from FFS approach.
 
In 2015, there were 14,200 Farmer Promoters and 2,500 FFS facilitators in the country.
 
Some 10,000 demonstration plots were available under farmer promoter system, while 10,000 FFS plots were being used for farmers’ skills acquisition in farming practices.
 
On the demonstration plots and during the FFS learning experience, farmers witness the efficiency of improved farming methods first-hand.
 
Twigire Muhinzi Projection’s goal is to reach over 1.5 million farmers by 2019 and the cost of implementation for the programme is estimated at $20 million (about Rwf14 billion) with considerable outcome worth $400 million (about RwfRwf300 billion).

How it works

The farmers are organized into farmer groups to serve as the entry point for extension services. Each village identifies one volunteer farmer promoter through a participatory exercise. The farmer promoters are given extension materials as well as basic training in improved agricultural practices.
 
They later set up a demonstration plot to grow crops using the methods they learnt. Other farmers visit the plot three times a season to learn how to improve their own farming practices. Thanks to the application of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), the demonstration plots will have higher yields than the farmers’ fields, thus convincing the other farmers to take up the improved farming practice in line with the ‘Seeing is Believing’ motto.
 
The Farmer Promoter also mobilizes the farmers for increased use of improved seeds, fertilizers and other farm inputs. Simultaneously, farmers get the opportunity to join an FFS group in which they will build up their decision making skills based on observation and analysis of the plants. “The plant is the teacher” and the FFS Facilitator is there to guide the learning process.
 
Like the Farmer Promoters, the FFS Facilitators are selected by the community to become frontline extension agents. The difference is that FFS Facilitators receive a much more intense season -long training that not only equips them with strong technical skills, but also empowers them to be become true facilitators of a learning process.
 
A critical part of their training involves understanding adult learning, knowing how to make their groups lively and interactive, developing appropriate facilitator attitude and knowing how to deal with questions they have no answers to.

Farmers Appriciate

Hawa Mukandutiye, the coordinator of the Federation of Rice Farmer Cooperatives in Rwanda (FUCORIRWA) said that the federation grows rice on about 12,353 hectares and that the average rice yield increased from 1.5 or 3 tonnes in 2000s to the current 5.5 tonnes per hectares.

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Caption: Plant health rally on Maize stalk borer in Southern zone

The federation has 64 cooperatives grouped into four unions, counting over 63,000 members;

“Because of the improved incomes, farmers are able to pay for their children’s fees in decent schools and Mutuelle de Santé,” she said.

“Indeed, thanks to improved yields, rice farmers have not only had food security, but also other needs fulfilled,” she said, noting that some farmers have diversified into other business generating activities thanks to the sales from their farm produce.

Mukandutiye attributed the improvement in yields, as well as farmers’ income, to the interventions availed by through various means such as fertliser subsidies and development of new seed varieties that are more productive.

In 2016 Agriculture Season B, they collected over 25,000 tonnes of rice that it sold. The farm gate price for paddy rice is Rwf220.

She said that before 2010, farmers would struggle to get market for their rice produce because of lack of rice processing factories, but currently there are about 24 factories processing rice, which she said, constitute ready market for their produce.

“Farmers’ rice has a ready market at an agreed farm gate price where farmers have their say, which is different from the past where prices were set without consulting them,” she said.

She added, “We are buying a kilogramme of fertiliser at Rwf540, while the actual price is Rwf640 which means that the government subsidises Rwf100 per kilogramme. This is a big contribution.”

For fertiliser application, they use about 200 kilogrammes of NPK and 100 kilogrammes urea.

RAB releases about 10 rice varieties and tests them in its research stations. Then, the varieties are availed to farmers to choose which ones are the most productive, so that farmers can adopt them. They even give them local names of their choice depending on their performance,” she said.  

She said, Farmer Field Schools (FFS) have been very helpful to farmers, as they get new knowledge and skills on good farming practices for enhanced productivity, citing the use of urea briquettes application in rice growing as more efficient than the normal approach costing of spreading it as some amount evaporates into the air.  
 
Crop protection’s main objective is to improve agricultural production through development and dissemination of pests and disease management technologies. Main activities include collecting and regularly updating information on pests and diseases situation in the country and develop programs for their management; provide information to farmers, technical assistance and advice on how to manage crop pest outbreaks.
 
RAB’s Crop Protection Specialist, Priscille Ingabire says that in general, monitoring and field visits were conducted in affected areas attacked by different pests (Maize stalk borer, black aphids, white grub, viral disease like MLN disease, caterpillars, leaf miner, bacterial wilt, early and late blight, BXW etc) for Crop Intensification Programme (CIP) crops namely; maize, wheat, rice, Irish potato, beans and cassava, and other crops where at least 90% of pests were managed especially on consolidated sites.
 
A pesticide strategic stock was initiated and serves to help farmers by providing them with pesticides for pest and disease management in case of outbreak. For identified pests, mobilization campaigns were also organized for pests and disease management.   
 
How RAB addresses crop pests and diseases

Ingabire says on Banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW), Pest management campaigns were conducted in Eastern, Western and Southern zones in districts that grow banana. Banana rehabilitation campaigns also are done where BXW has been a problem.
 
In addition, a  mobilization campaign on maize stalk borer, Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) management has been done in all affected districts in Southern province where cassava is planted. Apart from that, tolerant varieties for CBSD have been given to farmers for multiplication and then distributed to other farmers.
 
For Maize Lethal Necrosis disease, guidelines on the management of the disease were developed and distributed in all districts. 2,600 Extension materials on management of the disease were distributed to farmers and all district agronomists.83 extension agents including Seed inspectors and Seed analysts, CIP Focal person and Coordinators were trained on MLN disease management.

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Caption: Participants seeing how to wear personal protective equipment
 
Strategies to ensure effective crop protection

Plant health clinic approach: RAB in collaboration with CABI (Centre for Agriculture Biosciences International) has been establishing plant health clinics in Rwanda since 2011. A plant clinic concept enables researchers and extension agents from various sectors to provide direct help to farmers in area of pests and plant disease management.
 
Sixty-six plant health clinics are operational in almost all districts of Rwanda. With this approach,250  extension agents have been trained as plant doctors to  run the clinics.They give advice to farmers on how to manage pests which attack their crops at all costs.
 
Twigire Muhinzi: With this model, farmer promoters, FFS facilitators and other extension agents are trained on good agricultural practices and other methods that can be used for pest management.              

Empowering farmers to manage and control pests and diseases by themselves

Trainings for farmers are conducted to increase their knowledge in pests and disease management. Incapacity building of farmers, extension agents and agro-dealers they are taught pesticides safe use, handling and self-protection. About 300 hundred lead farmers from different cooperatives, agro-dealers, and sector and district agronomists were trained on pesticides safe use and handling and self-protection in Nyabihu, Musanze, Rubavu, Burera, Karongi, Rutsiro and Kirehe Districts.
 
Extension materials for management of different pests and diseases are developed and distributed to farmers so that they can be used as reference materials to identify pests and manage them.               
                     
Extension materials, green and yellow lists, have been developed for different crops like Maize, banana, Irish potato, beans, soybean, cassava, wheat, rice, tomato, eggplant, cabbage, carrot, mango, tamarillo (tree tomato), passion fruit and pineapple. They are distributed to farmers, farmer promoters and FFS facilitators every season depending on crops to grow in that season.
 
Applying Integrated Pest Management to deal with pests and diseases

For the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) package, farmers are advised that non-chemical control practices (cultural, physical, mechanical control, use of biological control among others) should always be considered before chemical control because they are inexpensive and safe to humans, farm animals and the environment. Farmer field schools have been established where farmers meet and learn more about IPM package (learn by doing approach).

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Caption: Plant doctors running clinic at Mageragere, Nyarugenge district

For example, more than a 1000 lead farmers from different sites under FFS project supervision (Northern, Southern, Eastern &Western zones) were trained on IPM techniques.

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