The Ministry of Agriculture (MINAGRI) has given itself until December to have sold off all the heavy caterpillars, potato harvesters, and power tiller trailers that the recent report of the Auditor-General (AG) found idle and their purchase, at Rwf1.8 billion, unnecessary.
The resale plan was revealed to The New Times by Innocent Nzeyimana, the head of land husbandry, irrigation, and mechanisation department at Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) during an interview last week.
He said officials at the ministry will gradually assess which machines they need to keep and which one should be sold off to private users.
“We will keep a minimum of machines for demonstration purposes mainly to teach agriculture cooperatives on how to use the technology. The management of such machines is very challenging for the government and it’s better for the private sector to take over,” Nzeyimana said.
The official said MINAGRI will sell off all the five heavy caterpillars - including one excavator, two track loaders, one bulldozer, and one soil compactor - which the ministry had purchased following the government’s decision to support the transformation of agriculture, specifically in irrigation.
Bought in 2010 at Rwf1.6 billion, the five caterpillars were planned to be used within the Government Funded Irrigation project (GFI) to build dams and other related irrigation infrastructure in the hillside areas.
However, audits by the AG in November 2014, carried out as part of auditing government expenditures for the fiscal year 2013-2014, revealed that the caterpillars were not compatible with the intended purpose for their purchase and are currently lying idle.
Asked why the ministry took the trouble to buy the heavy machinery, Nzeyimana said it was not easy to get heavy caterpillars for hire by the time the agriculture mechanisation project was launched in 2010.
He said all the caterpillars will be sold to private operators since there are now more private operators who can rent out heavy caterpillars in case Minagri needs them for its agriculture mechanisation programme.
Another wasteful spending at MINAGRI was still found with its agriculture mechanisation programme where 50 potato harvesters, worth Rwf44 million, are not suitable for local terrain and are lying idle.
According to the AG’s report for the Financial Year 2013/14, the fact that most Irish potatoes in Rwanda are grown in mountainous districts of Northern Province made mechanisation using potato harvesters a problem for such mountainous terrains.
“No feasibility study about the suitability of this type of equipment was carried out prior to acquisition,” the AG’s report reads in part.
The report also criticised officials at the ministry’s mechanisation programme for buying 250 power tiller trailers used for transporting farm produce at the tune of Rwf130.8 million in 2011.
Out of 250 power tiller trailers, 142 have never been used since they were delivered to the ministry and had been in stock for more than three years.
“The main metallic trailer bodies of these 142 trailers were left in the open where they are continuously exposed to direct sunlight and rainwater. Consequently, most trailer bodies have started to degrade through rusting,” the report reads.
But Nzeyimana dismissed the claim that the purchase of both potato harvesters and many power tiller trailers was not necessary, explaining that the equipment was needed in order to initiate farmers in how to use the equipment.
“I am assuring you that they have helped in the promotion of the mechanisation programme of the country’s agriculture sector,” he said.
Now that the trained farmers know about potato harvesters and power tiller trailers, the official added, the ministry is ready to sell them the machines and remain with a small number of the equipment for demonstration purposes.
Meanwhile, the chairperson of the Rwanda Civil Society Platform, Edouard Munyamaliza, has criticised the country’s agriculture mechanisation programme, describing it as a failure and calling for more efforts to mechanise agriculture.
Munyamaliza said there is no significant land that has so far been cultivated using tractors; hence the use of machines such as potato harvesters remains impossible.
“We haven’t yet mechanised our agriculture, that’s why the machines (bought by MINAGRI) couldn’t be used. There should be a mapping of all the land that needs mechanisation before there can be purchase of mechanisation equipment,” Munyamaliza told The New Times.