Rwanda and Burundi have received a $300,000 grant to help scale up wheat output in the region.
The grant is from the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (Asareca), a World Bank project.
This was disclosed during the launch of the two-year project in Kigali this week, expected to kick off next year.
“This is a pilot phase, and we will start with Burera and Rutsiro districts in the Northern and Western provinces, respectively,” said Josephat Mugabo, the head of the socio-economics desk at Rwanda Agricultural Board (Rab).
Currently, Rwanda has 55,000 hectares of wheat, scattered in 11 districts countrywide. With only two major processing plants (Azam and Pembe), it stands in the third position as far as the East African region is concerned, lying behind Kenya and Tanzania, respectively.
According to Innocent Habarurema, the Rab wheat programme coordinator, over 80 per cent of the wheat consumed is imported, costing the country about $13 million annually.
Joseph Gafaranga, a wheat farmer based in Musanze District, Northern Province, complained of low farm gate prices paid, ranging between Rwf200 and Rwf600 per kilogramme.
“Farmers invest a lot of time and energy in growing this crop, so the least they should be paid per kilogramme should be Rwf400,” he said.
Wheat has two planting seasons per year, each taking four months, and highland soils are most suitable.
“Most local yields are so poor, processors always turn them down, preferring imports from Kenya,” Mugabo added.
He said an average of two tonnes is harvested per hectare, yet each hectare has potential to produce an average of four tonnes.
Habarurema said pests like Epilachna are known to destroy wheat leaves, especially during the dry season, leaving farmers counting losses.
He said land consolidation is necessary if wheat output will ever improve, as it is still done on individual plots.
Mugabo said about 150 trainers of trainers last year were trained on proper wheat farming practices.
“Previously, we were relying on the Ministry of Agriculture for support, but we are glad that new players like Asareca are coming on board,” Gafaranga said.
Wheat is typically milled into flour that is then used to make a range of foods, including bread, crumpets, muffins, noodles, pasta, biscuits, cakes, pastries, cereal bars, sweet and savoury snack foods, crackers, crisp-breads, sauces and confectionery