Research and technologies to address issues of crop and livestock diseases, climate change effects, lack of quality seeds, all of which adversely affect farm productivity, should be prioritized, agriculture stakeholders have said.
They were speaking on Friday, as technical experts from various ministries who deal with activities related to agriculture convened in Kigali for a discussion on a draft Strategic Plan for Agriculture Transformation in Rwanda (PSTA 4).
The draft was produced though several consultations conducted to gather inputs from different sector stakeholders.
The six-year strategy, which will run from 2018 through 2023, is being designed through the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Martin Harerimana, president of Rwanda Cassava Cooperatives Federation (RCCF) told Sunday Times said that research and technology should be prioritizeds so that they address issues of crop diseases that have been wrecking farmers’ investments and threatening food security.
He said cassava is grown on over 100,000 hectares countrywide, but the outbreak of Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) in 2012/2013, destroyed the crop and farmers have been struggling to get cassava seeds that are resistant to the disease.
By trying to bridge the gap left by the disease, farmers have been looking for cassava cuttings to grow, but, still fall short of demand as the area on which the crop is grown on about half the total acreage.
Harerimana said a new cassava variety tolerant to the disease - imported from Uganda - was multiplied on 1,000 hectares in November 2016, thanks to interventions from the government, but noted that farmers needed more cuttings so that they multiply them on 2,000 hectares to meet seed demand
“We need the institution responsible for agriculture development to carry out research to avail various cassava varieties which farmers can try and choose one to grow based on its productivity. With the availability of many varieties, farmers will have options when one variety gets affected by a disease or pest and therefore, get protected against losses,” he said.
He noted that there is a need to enhance research for both seed production and determine quality fertilisers appropriate to particular types of soil, which will give better yields than the current situation where same seeds and fertilisers are applied in all types of soils.
Mads Knudsen, a private sector development economist at Vanguard Economics, who is a consultant for the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) PSTA 4, said 69 percent of the Rwandan population earn a living from agriculture adding that the strategy seeks to improve the livelihoods of farmers, and animal resources produce, reduce the level of poverty in a sustainable way, as well as tap into the potential export market.
Tackling climate change effects on farming
In regards to tackling climate change effects, Knudsen said that irrigation, climate adaptation, and soil management through proper manure application are some of the means to dealing with the issue.
“Need for good land husbandry, terracing, inputs to the farm, extension services will be more prioritized in this strategy than previously, and there will also be increase in skills at farmer level through extension services,” he said.
Dr. Octave Semwaga, Director General for Strategic Planning and Programmes Coordination at the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI), said that PSTA 3 was successful including meeting 90 percent of food needs among Rwandans, and that agriculture growth was double the population growth.
He however said that there were challenges in the farming sector mainly climate change such as drought which had adverse effects on crop yields.
Production of main food crops, which include maize, beans, wheat, banana, cassava, and Irish potato, was over 6.7 million tonnes in 2016 down from over 6.8 million tonnes in 2015 and over seven million tonnes in 2014, according to figures from the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda. Drought is blamed for the reduction in the yields.
Semwaga said that irrigation is one of the solutions to drought effects and controlling disease outbreak that are attributed to climate change.
He noted that farmers should not hinge on rain-fed agriculture, rather practice irrigation so that they get ensured of yields in all seasons regardless of rain absence.
Out of 600,000 hectares of arable land that need irrigation countrywide, about 48,000 hectares are irrigated currently, Semwaga said, noting that the government will continue to put in efforts and partner with the private sector such that the entire farmland could be irrigated by 2050.
Agriculture sector has been growing at about 5% annually, while according to EDPRS-II, agricultural output is expected to grow at 8.5 percent per annum by 2018.
In 2016, agriculture contributed about 30 percent to Rwanda’s Rwf6,618 billion GDP, NISR statistics show.