Kirehe district has managed to transform its traditional agricultural system, and adopted modern technology to provide food and jobs for hundreds of its population.
“Kirehe may not be an example where everything is going perfectly, but it is getting a very good mileage out of modern agriculture,” said Benson Muhikira, the district Vice Mayor in charge of economic development.
Development in the agricultural sector was recognized and made a very high priority by the local authorities with the support of other stakeholders.
Dr. Ephraim Kabaija the Governor of Eastern Province said that rural development can only be achieved through modern agriculture, and provision of basic infrastructure like feeder roads.
“We acknowledge that the first step to sustainable development of the entire nation is successful subsistence agriculture coupled with rural education and rural infrastructure. That is why we want every community and home to get sufficient food to eat, and probably sale the surplus,” Kabaija said.
“In addition, people must access markets to buy and sell what they produce”.
This was possible with the district long run plan, to maximize use of; irrigation, fertilizers, and even provide enough water and electricity in trading centres and villages.
Agriculture encompasses a wide variety of specialties and techniques, including ways to expand land suitable for plant growing, by digging water-channels and other forms of irrigation.
Fortunately this has been implemented through the land consolidation program initiated by the government, early this year.
Modern agriculture, plant breeding, pesticides, fertilizers, and technological improvements have sharply increased yields from cultivation, and at the same time deterred ecological damage.
“In order to improve the quality of rural livelihoods and lifestyles, we have to enhance agricultural production, employment, infrastructure, housing and the protection of natural resources,” said Nathalie Niyonigire, an agricultural officer in Kirehe district.
Land consolidation has fostered integrated rural development that controls land fragmentation to the benefit of the population.
Protais Murayira the district’s Mayor said: “We aim to reduce disparities between urban and rural areas by improving the rural situation. This demands sustained programmes and projects that lead to the development of farms, villages and trading centres. Because rural communities have diverse needs, having an integrated approach to rural development is vital.”
Under land consolidation, the issue of vast numbers of small and fragmented plots has been addressed, to pave way for meaningful crop growing in a successful and sustainable way.
Rice: Rice production has increased in the last couple of years mainly due to improved agricultural practices, effectively positioning Kirehe district into a potential rice basket.
The district partly owes the recent boom in rice production to implementing the land consolidation program and the government’s effort to promote rice growing among small holder farmers, who account for the big percentage of the total rice production.
“Rice growing is at satisfying level; small scale farmers have been facilitated with fertilizers and other farm inputs. They are able to access loans without difficulties,” said Jean Baptiste Habimana, 53, a resident of Mahama sector in Kirehe.
Maize: The quantity and quality of maize produced in the district had been low for a long time, mainly due to people’s negative attitude towards the crop.
Farmers were used to growing sorghum as the main cereal crop, but have now diversified production to include maize.
Coffee: Farmers have contextualized the feasibility of growing modern coffee. Alfred Nkubiri an exemplary farmer in Nasho sector sets the standards on what mixed farming entails.
He explained the success of coffee in the area as mainly due to the farmers’ awareness, of the processing of coffee. He said that farmers have gone scientific to recycle the production of coffee.
“Most farmers used to grow and process coffee in a tradition way that greatly reduced the quality of coffee. But today, the trend is positively changing,” he reflected.
The farmer has a coffee plant in Nasho that process the coffee, before sending it to his Kigali one for completion of the process.
Alfred Nkubiri said that, “Our coffee is sustainably grown. When the coffee is ripe it is harvested by hand, peeled and sun dried. The peelings are composted and used to fertilize the coffee plants”.
“When the drying process is completed, the parchment peeling is removed and the coffee is machine and hand sorted to remove imperfections. We create a final product of excellent quality from our Kigali plant”.
Farming: Under the one cow per family program, at least one out of 5 families own a cow in the district. The program has enabled families to get milk for their children and manure for their crops hence improving people’s livelihoods in general.
“I don’t lack manure in my garden, my children drink milk and I sell some of it to pay for the family’s health insurance. We have greatly benefited from one cow per family programme,” said Petero Kanamugire, 49, a resident of Rwanteru.
There are further individual farmers, who have managed to crossbreed the local long honed cows, with the exotic ones, to come up with excellent hybrids.
Alfred Nkubiri owns over 500 cows that graze on an evergreen 150 hectare farm situated between low lying hills and a low land, surrounded by a series of natural lakes. This makes it one of the most ideal farms, suitable for Friesian cows.
“I have 500 hybrid cows, but intend to go to 1000. This is my target besides the improving my coffee business,” said Alfred Nkubiri.
Employment: Jobs have been created on various farms hence increasing the employment opportunity for many.
Juliet Gahongayire said that there is virtually no time to waste.
“Cows have to be attended to, all the day. The modern farming we are engaged in, calls for application of fertilizers, pruning, applying pesticides, watering and requires the involvement of the whole family. Sometimes we employ neighbours,” she noted.
Big farmers like Nkubiri employ quite a big number of people, who in turn employ others on their own garden.
“This coffee farm employs over 400 people. The same people use part of the money, to employ the same number or more, back on their gardens when they are away,” said one of the workers at the coffee plant.
There are some obvious challenges that farmers encounter. These include; the long distances from farms to markets. Some farms are 70 kilometres away from the main roads, which greatly hampers the dairy product business.
Additionally, farmer’s ignorance and traditional attitude towards land consolidation, the lack of capital, water and electricity, are some of the significant problems, farmers are yet to solve.
The other intriguing issue is the high birth rate exhibited in most villages, despite government’s campaign against producing many children
However, these have not hindered Kirehe district from pursuing modern farming methods.