Poor soils, low prices demoralise Muhanga rice farmers

Higher than normal soil acidity and humid weather have been blamed for poor rice yields suffered by farmers cultivating Rugeramigozi marshland in Muhanga District.
Farmers cultivating in a rice field.
Farmers cultivating in a rice field.

Higher than normal soil acidity and humid weather have been blamed for poor rice yields suffered by farmers cultivating Rugeramigozi marshland in Muhanga District.

Jean Claude Ndagano, of the Rwanda Agriculture Development Agency (RADA) says that before the marshland was allocated to farmers for rice growing in 2010, the land was used for different activities such us pottery and brick making that could have altered the soil composition and reduced its fertility.

“In the past, people used to dig in the marshland for molding, making clay for bricks which caused it to be acidic and humid, but we always try to find seeds that are resistant to such conditions,” he said. The area is also said to be too cold for rice growing—with temperatures dropping to as low as 9 degree Celsius. Rice does well at between 15 and 19 degrees.

Some of the farmers said that while weather and soil conditions remain a challenge, the price per kilo paid at the processing factory has left the farmers with almost no income.

Stephanie Mujawimana, a farmer and resident in Nyamabuye Sector, said the cooperative buys the rice from members at Rwf250 per kilo, a price he says is not enough for farmers to recover their costs and earn some income.

“Growing rice requires living in the wetland for the whole season—taking care of the rice from planting to harvesting with out resting yet we almost gain nothing,” said Monique Mukandanga, another farmer. The farmers say Rwf300 per kilo would be fair enough to compensate for their efforts, time and costs.

The yield per acre in Rugeramigozi is about 3.5 tons—far less than average yield of 7 tons harvested by farmers in other marshlands country-wide. According to the area agronomist, Evarist Niyonzima, there is need for farmers to generate as much composite manure as they can to apply on their gardens to help regulate acid in the soil. He said it will take at least one year for marshland to regain fertility. Niyonzima said it’s only when yields increase that farmers expect higher prices.

“Farmers have to work very hard to improve soil fertility. At the moment, the price remains the same until the yield increases,” Niyonzima said.

He admitted that what farmers get now is not adequate to compensate for their efforts, but counseled them to continue working hard because production would soon improve if farmers did what it takes to improve soil fertility.

About 1,000 farmers derive a living from cultivating the 80-hectares marshland to grow rice which they sometimes intercrop with maize.  Rugeramigozi marshland lies between Nyamabuye and Shyogwe Sectors.

 “All benefits go to the factory and cooperative not to us, they do not calculate the price in right way, because I spend a lot of money preparing land, weeding and harvesting,” said a farmer identified only as Mvunabandi. According to Mvunabandi, last season he spent more than Rwf 50,000 to grow rice but earned only Rwf38, 000.

But the president of Imparaniramusaruro y’Abahinzi Borozi ba Rugeramigozi Cooperative, Jean Damascene Uzabakiriho, says the price per kilogramme is usually agreed on by all stakeholders before planting.

“All the money we charge them is for paying temporal laborers and buying materials needed in the cooperative. We also charge for seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides,” he explains. The cooperative deducts Rwf25 per kilo of rice sold by the farmers to the processing plant.

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