ADAPTING AGRICULTURAL PRACTICES TO THE CHANGING ENVIRONMENT WILL ENSURE SUSTAINABLE FOOD SECURITY, SAYS FAO REPRESENTATIVE

Sustainable Development Goal number two compels governments and stakeholders to work towards ending hunger through food security. As Rwanda joins the rest of the globe to mark ‘World food day’, experts suggest that with proper strategies, this goal is achievable.
Agricultural innovations are needed to adopt to the changing environment (Courtesy photos)
Agricultural innovations are needed to adopt to the changing environment (Courtesy photos)

Sustainable Development Goal number two compels governments and stakeholders to work towards ending hunger through food security. As Rwanda joins the rest of the globe to mark ‘World food day’, experts suggest that with proper strategies, this goal is achievable.

 The NewTimes’ Solomon Asaba held a wide-ranging conversation with Attaher Maiga, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nation’s Representative in Rwanda, on FAO’s operations in Rwanda, and for an insight into the developments ahead of the World Food Day celebrations. Below is what he had to say;

 

Give some perspective on how FAO collaborates with the governments such as the GoR on a day-to-day basis to achieve food security in the country.

 

FAO’s mandate primarily is to help countries eradicate hunger and promote good nutrition. We do this by sharing our expertise and experience gathered over 71 years of existence at a global level to help countries get where they want to go in the area of food and nutrition.

 

However, countries have also developed their own experience and competencies over the years, so we only offer assistance where we see gaps, or where we are invited to help.

What specific areas are you involved in within Rwanda?

There are many, but to highlight a few:

We have been assisting in the policy and strategy areas. For example, we have been supporting the ministry of agriculture develop a National Nutrition Action Plan notably for its costing and implementation.

We also pioneered the Farmer Field Schools extension model in Rwanda, through which farmers impart knowledge and capacity to one another, and are glad that government has taken it up and institutionalised it in the Twigire Muhinzi programme.

Forestland restoration interventions in Rulindo is another project that is currently underway. Rwanda has pledged to restore 2 million hectares of degraded forests  under the Bonn challenge, so this is an intervention that we have been supporting.

The UN General Assembly declared 2016 the "International Year of Pulses" (dried legume seeds such as beans and peas) and nominated FAO to facilitate its implementation. But, according to the Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis (CFSVA) 2015, 88 per cent of Rwandan households grow beans; do Rwandans need to be taught anything about pulses?

True, Rwandans grow and consume a lot of beans and peas. However, many people are unaware of their benefits and simply grow them out of tradition, yet Pulses are among the most nutritious foods available, and have bio-diversity and climate-change benefits. In addition, due to their long shelf life they can contribute tremendously to food security.

Thus, in partnership with the ministry of agriculture and animal resources, we want to raise awareness on the multiple qualities of pulses, highlight the fact that Rwanda is a champion in this area, and further support this trend.

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Attaher Maiga says holistic approaches are needed for sustainable food security.

How does a country like Rwanda, which is one of the most densely populated in Africa, push agricultural production to the level where it can meet the country’s food needs, while remaining mindful of environmental concerns?

This is a challenge many countries are trying to overcome. FAO’s 2014 Sustainable Food and Agriculture initiative was developed to support and accelerate the transition to more sustainable food and agricultural systems, balancing the environment and socio-economic dimensions. It requires coordination with different agencies, both in government and in the private sector and civil society organizations.

We also sensitise communities to adopt good agricultural practices. For example in Rulindo, we are now promoting use of Agro-forestry and crop rotation.

As Rwanda gears up to celebrate World Food Day, tell us briefly about its significance.

World Food Day is an occasion for us to highlight the importance of food security and nutrition. Globally, it is actually celebrated on the 16th October, but since this year’s date falls on a Sunday, in Rwanda Government decided to observe it on the 20th October in Huye district under the theme: “Climate is changing, food and agriculture must too.”

Today, the threat of negative climate change is continuing to increase and global average temperatures are on the rise. For instance, this year we have seen intense heat waves and drought in many places, such as the dry spells in Rwanda’s Eastern province that impacted heavily on the region’s food security. Moreover, farmers complain about late rains, with low quantities.

World Food Day 2016 provides an opportunity to sensitise the global community on how we can adapt agriculture to the effects of climate change.

Drawing from your decades-long experience as a professional in this sector, how do you think Rwanda’s agriculture sector can adapt to the changing climate trends?

We need to be creative. Say the rainy season is getting shorter; farmers can choose between using a seed variety with a short cycle, or drought-resistant seed. The ministry of agriculture is also promoting small-scale irrigation, and FAO is helping with some interventions in that direction. Finally, we need to accelerate and upscale efforts aimed at better management of soil and water resources in Rwanda.

The stereotype of the starving African child around the world refuses to die in spite of the great progress the continent has made in overcoming hunger. However, Rwanda’s Compact 2025 initiative, in which it pledges to eradicate hunger and malnutrition by 2025 is one beacon of hope. Is this goal achievable?

The good news is, it is possible: we have seen other countries like Brazil, China and Vietnam achieve this in a relatively short timeframe. Rwanda, too, has already made huge strides in food availability; but it goes beyond food production to encompass other aspects like the access to markets, food losses reduction and the entire agriculture value chain. All we need to achieve these goals is leadership and commitment, and Rwanda is not short on either.

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