The 8.5 per cent growth target in agriculture as envisaged in the Second Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS 2) will propel the Rwandan economy to grow at 11.5 per cent, enabling the country to achieve middle-income status with a GDP per capita of $1,240.
But how will that target be achieved by 2018 given the current growth rate of 5 per cent and farmers’ challenges including threats posed by climate change, diseases, poor soil, fertiliser shortage, low reach of irrigation and agricultural mechanisation?
The Minister of State for Agriculture, Tony Nsanganira, told The New Times that average contribution of the agriculture sector to GDP between 2007 and 2014 was 33 per cent as per the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda.
The Agriculture sector generated output worth Rwf1,188 billion in 2010 and Rwf1,440 billion in 2014.
Agricultural exports generated revenues worth approximately $158 million in 2010 and $227 million in 2014, representing a 43.4 per cent increase in revenues generated over the five-year period.
Nsanganira explained that food crops, for instance, generated Rwf660 billion in 2007/2008, which grew to Rwf996 billion in 2014/2015, with an average annual growth rate of 6.1 percent.
However, export crops generated Rwf61 billion in 2007/2008 and Rwf79 billion in 2014/2015, representing an average annual growth of 3.8 per cent.
Efforts to increase agric productivity
Nsanganira cited the Crop Intensification Programme as one of the efforts to improve both the quality and quantity of agriculture production. The programme, which started in 2007, has four key components; to facilitate access to improved inputs, land use consolidation, proximity of extension services and post-harvest handling and storage.
“The programme helps to consolidate small and fragmented land holdings belonging to smallholder farmers for the production of priority crops by exploiting economies of scale. It also invests in post-harvest infrastructure and equipment to reduce post-harvest losses and promotes irrigation infrastructures and land terracing to increase productivity, while supporting efforts of dealing with climate change consequences such as droughts, floods and soil erosion,” the minister explains.
Dr Celestin Gatarayiha, the head of the Coffee Division at the National Exports Development Board (NAEB), said 22,000 tonnes of coffee were produced in 2015, of which 18,793.3 tonnes were exported, generating 62,037,690.
He said the production and revenues in 2015 increased by 35 per cent and 4 per cent respectively, which implies a fall in coffee prices on the international market.
Currently, there are 355,771coffee farmers in the country and 89.7m coffee trees.
Dr Gatarayiha said the 29,000tonnes of coffee to be produced and fully washed will account for 59 per cent of the projected targets for 2016.
He said measures to increase both coffee quality and production include improving application of fertilisers, mobilising farmers to practice good agronomics and the control of pests and disease.
Addressing soil infertility
Nsanganira said soil infertility is caused by several factors, one of them being soil acidity.
He said 40 per cent of Rwandan soils are acidic. As such, farmers are only able to improve their crop productivity by using lime in addition to other inputs such as chemical fertilisers, organic manure and quality seeds.
Therefore, he said, MINAGRI initiated the Lime Programme to improve farmers’ access to lime.
Eleven districts in the country have soil-related problems, however, the Lime Programme begun with four districts with severely acidic soils. These are; Nyamasheke, Nyaruguru, Nyamagabe and Karongi. The Lime programme is implemented through districts. The districts have earmarked funds to enable farmers purchase lime at a 50% subsidy.
So far, over 13,910 metric tonnes (MT) have been acquired and distributed to farmers in these districts. In the coming financial year (2016/17), four more districts will be added to the Lime Programme and these are Ruhango, Huye, Gakenke and Muhanga.
Attaining agriculture growth targets needs innovation in agriculture inputs and farming practices.
Landouard Semukera, the technology transfer officer at the International Fertiliser Development Centre (IFDC) – Rwanda, said they help farmers to increase crop productivity through the development and transfer of effective and environmentally sound crop nutrient technology.
He, however, said secondary nutrients and micronutrients (SMNs) have generally not been considered nor made available to farmers, but soil maps indicating multiple deficiencies of SMNs have been produced by IFDC.
Semukera said fertiliser recommendation has for long considered macronutrients.
He said since 2013, IFDC has closely collaborated with Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) to improve the use of fertilisers by conducting on-farm trials to develop improved fertiliser recommendations.
On-farm trials have been conducted in all agro-ecological zones for four consecutive seasons. Research findings indicated that all crops responded positively to the combination of macronutrients, secondary and micronutrients where increase in yields of potato, rice and beans was attained. For example, the average potato yield increased from 24,990kg/ha with current recommendation based on macronutrients (NPK173) to 32,296 kg/ha with improved formulation.
Paddy rice yield increased from 5,550 kg/ha to 8,090kg/ha. Yield increase for beans grew from 2,470kg/ha to 3,300 kg/ha with improved formulation.
Minister Nsanganira said the rate of fertiliser use in the country is at 32kg/ha, while the target rate is 45kg/ha. The rate is associated with farmers’ slow adoption of fertiliser use.
For some farmers, it is a perception that their soils are fertile or they only need organic fertilisers, while for others they are not able to afford fertilisers.
He said there are also initiatives in place to improve affordability of fertilisers, explaining that several agro-processors have contract arrangements with farmers where they provide inputs, whose cost is recovered when farmers sell their harvest to the agro processors.
“To reach the target of 45kg/ha, we shall need to use 58,800MT of fertilisers in total,” he said, adding that there are initiatives to manufacture the fertilisers locally.
The local fertiliser blending factory
Semukera said by working with other stakeholders, Nkubili Alfred and SONS (ENAS), has established a fertiliser blending plant valued at 754,000 euros. The facility, launched this year, is using fertiliser formulations developed by IFDC in collaboration with Rwanda Agriculture Board.
Nsanganira said the local fertiliser blending plant has a production capacity of 120 tonnes per day.
“This local undertaking will have a positive impact on the development by effectively responding to the specific fertiliser nutrient requirements for different soils in the various agro-ecological regions of Rwanda,” he said.
Nsanganira noted that currently, blanket fertiliser recommendations based on commercially traded fertiliser formulations are being used in the country.
“Therefore, with local fertiliser blending, different formulations that respond to specific soil nutrient needs of our soils will be made. This in turn, will contribute to increased soil productivity,” he said.
He said some individual fertiliser components will still be imported, but other constituents such as fertiliser filler (limestone/sand quarries) are available in Rwanda and will be sourced locally.
Farmers have their say
Emmanuel Uwitije, a cassava farmer from Ruhango Sector of Ruhango District, said normally, he gets between 18 and 20 tonnes of cassava per hectare each harvest, but adds that if farmers get improved seeds, better methods of controlling diseases and pests as well as insurance services, agriculture can benefit farmers and the economy more.
He suggested that an agriculture insurance fund be set up and farmers make contributions to it, if need be, to have their ventures secured.
Jean-Pierre Mushokambere, the president of the Union of Rice Farmers’ Cooperatives (UCORIBU) working in the districts of Gisagara, Nyanza and Huye, said the effects of climate change are manifested as part of the marshland cannot be used by rice farmers during the dry season due to lack of dams or water channels.
UCORIBU cultivates rice on about 2,200 ha of marshland, but during the dry season, it only cultivates 700. It collects 6,400 tonnes of rice annually for sale.
Mushokambere said a farmer gets Rwf250 per kilogramme of paddy rice.
He said there is an urgent need to develop some marshlands that have been lying idle.
“We need at least to get seven tonnes of rice per ha up from the current 5.8 tonnes average rice produce per ha. But, to achieve this, marshland reclaiming and availability of dams in both seasons are prerequisite,” he said.