Agriculture mechanization in Rwanda consists of different farm machinery which performs different farm operations from: land development and land preparation, planting, crop treatment, harvesting, post-harvesting and Agro-processing. This machinery includes heavy machinery for land development, tractors (crawler, 4 wheel & 2 wheel), harvesters (combine and reapers).
Currently, over 32,000 hectares of land have been mechanized in collaboration with private partners. This is mostly in the Eastern Province where the land is relatively flat and easy for the use of machinery. A survey on the new land under development for irrigation projects is on-going and once completed, the exact current land under mechanization will be updated.
Mechanization is currently estimated to be at 20% across all farm operations, that is from land development to agro-processing. A planned baseline survey shall provide updates on the level of mechanization in Rwanda.
Currently, over 5000 individual farmers and 20 farmers’ cooperatives use agriculture mechanization technology in different farm operations.
Impact of mechanization on agriculture
Mechanization has improved efficiency of production by expanding the scope of production which has resulted in value added products. The impact of mechanization can be seen through:
❶ Reduced drudgery in farming activities, thereby enhancing lifestyles and good health;
❷ Improved land productivity – The purpose of mechanization here is to produce more from the existing land. Machinery has become a complementary input, required to achieve higher land productivity
❸ Increased cultivable area –Total area under cultivation has been increased to over 32,000 ha.
❹ Operational timelines – Farmers who have used farm machinery completed their farm operations at the desired optimum time.
❺ Farm mechanization has enabled conventionally difficult- to- do jobs to get accomplished – Mechanized farmers have easily conducted operations which otherwise would have been difficult to do like Irrigation of wide areas, land preparation of bigger projects especially in the Eastern province.
❻ Maintenance of postharvest quality of agricultural produce.This, together with reduction of loss as well as on-and/or off- farm value addition of agricultural products.
Testifying the importance of agriculture mechanization., Jeannette Kanyange, 50, from Muyira Sector in Nyanza District said she had her three ha piece of land ploughed using a power tiller machine (tractor) that she rented, and that she realised the technology was beneficial to farmers.
“I paid Rwf100,000 for ploughing one ha, which was tough to cultivate with hands. From the ploughed field, I harvested Rwf1.5 million from the cassava I grew there,” she said, adding that one pays Rwf80,000 tilling of one ha when the land is plain.
“Where a farmer spends Rwf150,000 for the tilling of land with tractors, they can spend Rwf300,000 when they use human labour, which, besides, has proven inconsistent for tilling.” She explains that one ha can be tilled by one power tiller machine per day, while the same land would be tilled by 100 farmers per day.
Farm mechanization is an expensive venture which needs consistent support from the government. So far over 5 billion Rwandan francs have been invested since 2009/2010.
Currently, the private sector is getting involved in providing mechanization services at 50%, whereas the government continues monitoring and supporting the growth of the private sector-driven mechanization. At the moment, nine private companies are involved in this activity, although they are not yet well established financially and technically.
Rationale and progress of agriculture mechanization in Rwanda
The mechanization program in Rwanda started in the financial year 2009/2010 to promote use of farm machinery in different farming operations for rural farmers, develop local skills and strengthen capacity in agricultural mechanization. It was also established topromote mechanization in post-harvest activities.
The strategic goal was to achieve 25% of farm operations (that is, land preparation, planting, crop treatment, harvesting, post-harvest handling and agro-processing) to become mechanized by 2017, allowing one in every 4 Rwandan farmers to access mechanization services. Today, 20% of these operations have been achieved in collaboration with the private sector.
Challenges facing agriculture mechanization
The low purchasing power of most small-scale farmers coupled with high interest rate on existing credit facilities are hindering the private sector involvement in agricultural mechanization.
Farmers do not purchase machinery mainly due to lack of finances. Commercial banks are generally not interested in lending to farmers and yet their interest rates are far too high for farmers to use loans effectively. Farmers lack collaterals and there are few rural banks interested in financing mechanisation.
In addition, mechanization in Rwanda faces a set of unique challenges like the hilly terrain, the high population density and the subsequent small land holdings. These problems are further aggravated by land fragmentation into small individual plots where it is difficult to use farm machinery efficiently and economically.
There are lack of approved agricultural machinery standards and specifications suiting local conditions. There is a low number of qualified local manufacturers, technicians and researchers in agricultural mechanization in addition to lack of suitable agricultural machinery for hilly topography, marshlands and other soil types
Equipped workshops and spare parts are not easily available due to lack of proper maintenance and repair facility, maintenance scheduling and spare parts delivery.
There are also low management skills in cooperatives. There is still limited training and capacity building for farmers, cooperative leaders, private sector actors and involved stakeholders in mechanization, on farm machinery management, yet such skills are essential for a private sector-driven mechanization.
RAB states that measures to help many farmers to access mechanization services, include the creation of awareness and sensitization meetings through enabling a system for affordable farm machineries to private investors or farmer cooperatives and establishing partnerships of shareholding between investors and farmer cooperatives.
Extending capacity building to different users by carrying out short training of private investors and local manufacturers on machinery use and study tours is another option being considered.
There is also need for sensitization meetings of local authorities (District, sectors, cells and villages leaders) for increased land use consolidation and use of machinery. Farmer cooperatives and farmers should also be trained on agricultural mechanization through short sessions and study tours.
Suitable agricultural machinery for different terrain, different crops and scale of operations should be introduced, through the promotion of mechanization use in farm produce transportation.This will improve rural livelihoods, baling animal feeds, brick laying, water pumping, among other services.
Promoting post-harvest handling and processing machinery across various commodity value chains, through identifying existing and suitable post-harvest machines (survey)and producing suitable prototypes machines has, too, been put under consideration.
Establishing standards and specifications of post-harvest and agro-processing machines as well as promoting mechanization in agro-processing will help to improve rural livelihoods and reduce post-harvest losses.