The year 2009, for the most economies of the world, began in nightmares as the world experienced the worst financial crisis and economic meltdown that began late 2008.
Rwanda’s agriculture sector that had strongly backed the economy as the country registered 11.2 percent economic growth in 2008, the highest in as many years, could not too escape this global economic crunch.
The volume and value of exports fell a case in point being coffee whose volume fell from 4.92 million Kgs in 2008 to 4.27 million Kgs in 2009.
Despite the hitches of high population percentage depending on agriculture, with limited land, poor farming methods, land fragmentation, reducing soil fertility and weather changing patterns, agriculture sector managed to secure food for Rwandans through out the year 2009.
However this could not have come out of the blue. Sound strategies and policies were implemented this past year to increase rural incomes, and changes in agriculture from traditional subsistence to market driven commercial farming all geared towards ensuring food security.
The increase in food production has reduced dependence on imports that saved the country from food crisis that has been rampant, especially in the neighbouring countries.
Efforts made in the agriculture sector helped the country to meet its food requirements and get the surplus of about 197 metric tonnes as per the national food balance sheet.
Rwanda’s agriculture mainly hinges on two seasons, season A that runs from September through January or February and grand season B that entails two sub seasons C and D running from March to August.
From 2008, B season to 2009 B season, Rwanda registered 6.5 percentage increases in food production.
Meanwhile, other major crops such as sorghum, wheat, cassava, and beans also kicked the percentage increase in production of 17, 14, 21 and 11 percent respectively.
These were the most targeted crops by the country’s Crop Intensification Programme (CIP) initiated to boost food security of major staple crops.
Through CIP, government distributed chemical fertilizers, improved seeds, pesticides and sensitization was made on land consolidation that led to the increase in yields of cereals.
Fertilizers imported from July to December alone amounted to 33 million metric tonnes.
The government’s target has been to decrease traditional agriculture as it increases agribusiness to contribute between 13 and 14 percent to the GDP.
During the course of 2009, the Ministry of Agriculture and its stakeholders worked on unique programs for Rwanda’s rebuilding process.
Other initiatives that have greatly contributed to the country’s food insurance for the just concluded year is the ‘Model Hill’ commonly known as Agasozi Ndatwa.
The initiative that is rooted at every cell in the country has seen a lot of progress, especially through introducing modern techniques of farming.
Courtesy of this programme, nearly every cell in the country has got something to present as an achievement by the model hill.
This year was also characterized by ups and downs in the One Cow per Poor Household programme which was aimed at uplifting the livelihoods of Rwandans through distributing cows to the needy.
The programme that began in late 2006 has seen some progress albeit some inconsistencies that saw the animals diverted to the less deserving in most parts of the country.
This programme was initiated to serve a dual purpose of alleviating the poverty and addressing the problem of malnutrition among the local citizens as the cows not only provide milk but also manure to boost farming activities.
Courtesy of this programme, milk production last year increased by 11 percent.
To improve on livestock, the country also embarked on the importation of superior breeds of cattle like Jersey, Friesian, Guernsey and carrying out artificial insemination on traditional breeds.
However, despite the progress made to this program, there have been challenges of few milk collecting centres, low capacity of milk processing plants and lack of animal feeds.
Another issue that remains a challenge in the agricultural sector is irrigation where the country, even with the abundant water resources, still depends hugely on rain. If the weather conditions turn hostile, then the population may be exposed to dangers of food insecurity.
For example Rwanda experienced a short rainy rain season from September to November of season A and a long rainy season from February to May. These inconsistent trends make wrong predictions thereby affecting planning.
Given difficult times experienced in year 2009, Rwanda’s move to boost agriculture has yielded much especially in areas of securing food as the sector slowly transforms from traditional practice to modern and professional farming.