Fall Armyworm and Cassava Brown have in recent years ravaged crops across Rwanda.
These are just some of the crop diseases that have inflicted heavy losses on farmers and the country, effectively undermining agriculture production and food security targets.
The problem has been compounded by emerging challenges associated with climate change such as long dry spells and torrential rains.
To exacerbate the situation further smallholder farmers have barely adapted to the new challenges and continue to employ old-fashioned practices hoping for different results – in the form of improved yields.
And these challenges are not unique to Rwanda.
Last year, agriculture contributed 30 per cent of Rwanda’s GDP, representing a three percentage drop from the previous year.
Despite the impact of the armyworm and prolonged drought, the sector managed to grow by 3.8 per cent, down from 5.0 per cent in 2015.
This represented a setback under the framework of the 2003 Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), the Africa agenda for agricultural transformation, under which African countries committed to ensuring that the sector grows by at least 6 per cent annually.
Under CAADP, African countries also committed to put 10 per cent of their public expenditure in agriculture in a bid to unleash the sector’s potential and make it a key driver of the continent’s economic growth.
In Rwanda, while there is optimism about the sector’s performance this year, it is not out of the woods yet with official figures showing that the sector grew only 3 per cent in the first quarter of 2017.
Still, both the government and International Monetary Fund reckon that agriculture is likely to post strong performance this year, owing in part to improvements in access to and quality of seed varieties and fertiliser, crop intensification programme, among others.
In this context, therefore, last week’s announcement in Kigali by International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture – following a key meeting on agriculture in the Rwandan capital –, that it will be availing some US$10 million to smallholder farmers in developing countries to stave off the effects of climate change is not only vitally important but also timely.
The fourth round of the global benefits sharing fund for crops will help avail smallholder farmers with climate change and disease resistant seed varieties, as well as research and other services that are critical for good yields.
More stakeholders need to join the effort to help smallholder farmers adapt to present-day challenges that face this critical sector and ensure that individual nations and the world in general are food secure both in the immediate- and long-term.