Local horticulture producers have been encouraged to embrace modern farming practices, like irrigation and use of fertilisers to enhance their production and household income.
“Farmers should embrace modern farming methods, including mechanisation, irrigation, fertiliser application, crop rotation, and plant improved seeds to enhance output and their earnings,” Dr Geraldine Mukeshimana, the Minister for Agriculture and Animal Resources, said while visiting farmers in Kirehe District last week.
Mukeshimana assured the farmers that the government will continue investing in infrastructure projects, including setting up more irrigation facilities, to support the sector.
Government has been promoting irrigation among farmers and subsidises small irrigation equipment by 50 per cent besides setting up big irrigation schemes, like the Nyamugali irrigation project in Kirehe District currently used for horticulture farming.
Niyibizi Obed, a horticulture expert and farmer in Kirehe District, said more irrigation projects could boost the capacity of smallholder farmers and spur output of the non-traditional export crops, including horticulture produce.
The minister also called for more public-private sector partnerships to make the sector, especially horticulture, more sustainable.
Hillside horticulture project
Aline Kamikazi, a horticulture expert in Rulindo District, urged government to invest more in hillside irrigation schemes to support people living in hilly areas.
Kamikazi said focus has been put on marshlands, arguing that hillside irrigation is essential to ensure reliable and sustainable supply of produce to enhance horticultural exports.
According to the ministry of agriculture and animal resources, two hillside irrigation projects have already been completed in Nyanza and Karongi districts targeting production of export crops like horticulture produce.
“There has been a pilot project on production of Asian vegetables in Nyanza, while snow peas and sugar snaps have been grown successfully in Karongi and exported using these irrigation schemes,” she said. The irrigation schemes are situated in ecological zones that are suitable for horticulture farming.
Currently exporters are partnering with government and farmers to expand the production area to ensure sustainable supply.
The water from the dams flows through irrigation canals to feed horticulture fields, noting that the development is an important step towards addressing water scarcity in the two hilly districts.
The canals move water over 608 hectares of cultivated land in the Karongi and Nyanza project areas.
Although the horticulture value chain still needs to be strengthened through farmer training, as well as provision of cold chain facilities and other logistics, some of the firms have started weekly shipments of horticulture exports to Europe and other markets.
Rwanda grows horticulture crops like tomatoes, onions, water melon, peppers and eggplants, among others.
Other efforts to spur output
Last year, government and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation signed $24 million (about Rwf18 billion) partnership deal to fund the development of irrigation infrastructure in Kirehe District, Eastern Province.
Rwanda also got a $120 million loan from Export-Import Bank of India to fund export-targeted crop irrigation projects.
According to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning statistics, over $270 million has been injected into various agriculture projects, particularly to develop irrigation and water management projects in different parts of the country.
Rwanda’s Irrigation Master Plan targets about 40,465 hectares of potential irrigation areas. Already, about 500 small irrigation schemes are being developed in water stressed areas, including Bugesera and Kayonza districts in the Eastern Province.
The government seeks to increase horticulture exports tenfold, from $11 million in 2013 to $120 million in the next two years. The sector fetched $5.8 million last fiscal year, a decline from $6.6 million the previous year.
The horticulture sector, especially flower growing, is considered a “quick win” by government, providing the country huge opportunities to enhance export volumes and revenues, as well as help diversify the export base.
Agriculture employs over 72 per cent of the Rwandan population.