New initiative could double agric output

Efforts towards improving Rwanda’s agriculture production, as well as encouraging farmers to look at agriculture as a business have been boosted by a new initiative, where farmers will be trained to carry out some of the basic roles that would otherwise be done by extension staff.
Maize cobs in the field. The farmer-to-farmer extension model is expected to boost crop production. (File)
Maize cobs in the field. The farmer-to-farmer extension model is expected to boost crop production. (File)

Efforts towards improving Rwanda’s agriculture production, as well as encouraging farmers to look at agriculture as a business have been boosted by a new initiative, where farmers will be trained to carry out some of the basic roles that would otherwise be done by extension staff.

The “Twigire Muhinzi”, a farmer-to-farmer extension model at the village level aims at ensuring that farmers access basic extension services from within their communities, provided by their peers.

The “Twigire Muhinzi” initiative was launched in September, 2014 as an answer to numerous farmers’ complaints over lack of agronomists and demonstration plots, which was hurting the sector’s productivity.

According to Gerardine Mukeshimana, the Minister for Agriculture, the initiative will help solve about 80 per cent of the challenges faced by grassroots farmers. It is one of the outcomes of the farmer field schools started by the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), and operates under similar model.

A recent study by Civil Society Platform indicates that 19.8 per cent of farmers need extension services but don’t get them, while 76.9 per cent don’t demand for extension staff support and 76.1 per cent of farmers were unsatisfied with agricultural advisors responses. The study conducted from May to October, 2014 on agriculture service and the causes of low agriculture output, blamed the agriculture sector poor productivity on lack of agronomists to guide farmers at lower levels; insufficient demonstration plots at village levels; as well as lack of incentives to agriculture development advisors.

Jean de Dieu Nkerabahizi, a cassava farmer in Gitarama cell Kamonyi District, reechoes these findings, saying there are few extension workers in the district.

“Most farmers don’t know proper crop husbandry practices, or how to detect crop diseases early, which would not be the case if we had enough extension workers,” Nkerabahizi said.

Olivier Kwizera, another farmer from Musanze District, said most farmers do not understand why they get poor harvests. “So if farmers are trained and guided by extension staff, productivity could increase.”

He said it was important for agriculture extension service providers to conduct outreaches targeting farmers at the village level to help them improve farming practices.

Kwizera was hopeful, however, that the “Twigire Muhinzi” extension model could change the tide, adding that farmers were ready to embrace it.

According to the agriculture ministry statistics comparing crop yield in 2013/14 and the potential yield per hectare, there are still many gaps that affect agriculture productivity. The data shows that 22 tonnes of Irish potatoes were produced per hectare over the period, while the potential yield was projected at 40 tonnes. Maize was at 3.8 tonnes, but could hit 6.5 tonnes per hectare if farmers are supported; while wheat output could increase to four tonnes per hectare compared to 2.3 tonnes presently.

Rice farmers have the potential of producing eight tonnes per hectare compared to five tonnes, and banana production could grow from 12.8 tonnes to 33 tonnes. The data shows that cassava output could increase to 40 tonnes from 26 tonnes if the above challenges and others are addressed.

The Ministry of Agriculture is, however, upbeat that the new model will help increase crop output, noting that the initiative addresses some of the issues that have been hurting agriculture productivity.

Claudette Imanishimwe, who is part of the team working in southern agriculture zone told Business Times that the initiative has been embraced by farmers, noting that they were already carrying out farmer training and sensitisation drives.

Imanishimwe said under the farmer-to-farmer extension model, farmers will be trained in farming basics to ensure that they learn how to properly apply fertilisers to crops like Irish potatoes, bananas, tomatoes and maize. They will also be equipped with skills that will enable them detect early crop diseases and pests.

Imanishimwe added that farmers and village level facilitators (abafashamyumvire) were being trained and would work with agriculture advisors or farmer promoters.

These two groups would then establish farmer field school (FFS) groups of between 15 and 30 members and train them for the whole season on their demonstration plots.

“The trained farmers practice what they have been taught through mentoring and training other farmers since they are now like model farmers,” Imanishimwe explained.

She said so far 2,500 facilitators have already trained to handle different crops under the “Twigire Muhinzi” programme.

“We have one agronomist at sector level who cannot easily reach all farmers. So “Twigire Muhinzi” initiative will close this gap while agronomists and other Rab extension workers will be intervening to help people prepare for new planting seasons, about new varieties, doing follow ups, and giving more advanced technical support that cannot be offered by the village teams,” she explained.

Denys Hagenimana, an agronomist in Gakenke District, was hopeful that the new model will reduce pressure on agronomists, who are sometimes given other duties that affect their performance.

The new approach is expected to increase fertiliser use and improve agronomic practices, as well as enable farmers to access better markets for their produce in the long-run.

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