With the onset of the rainy season, livestock farmers in various districts of eastern Rwanda have all the reasons to smile after a long dry spell since May this year. The dry spell, livestock farmers say, had adversely affected live stock production.
Farmers narrated their strategy tales of coping up now that the dry spell is over. Farmers narrated how they had to wake up in the wee hours- when the dry grass is still wet- to graze their cattle as one way of coping up with the situation.
Mzee Thomas Ngarukiye, 72, a resident of Rwimbogo sector in Gatsibo district says that the months of late May to end of September are synonymous with drought in the area.
“I first experienced this situation when I was 5 years old. It is not entirely a new phenomenon.…We had to resort to nomadic lifestyle in order to cope up,” says Ngarukiye.
John Munyaburanga, a farmer, says that whenever the dry spell comes getting water for the animals becomes a big challenge.
“Given the situation cattle owners have to move miles and miles looking for water. The only source is Umuvumba River that snakes around Nyagatare and Gatsibo districts,” he said.
Munyaburanga adds that the water shortage becomes acute when some of the dams that are dug up to store water end up getting dry.
“You see some of us have managed to construct valley dams for our cattle but they dry up mid way before taking us through the dry season,” he said.
Damien Munyarubuga, a farmer in Tabagwe sector, Nyagatare district narrates challenges of abandoning sleep to look after cattle.
“We spend sleepless nights during this season. We start grazing in the wee hours when grasses are wet and go back for milking at 9 a.m. This is what we have adopted for our cattle’s survival because grasses are very dry during the day,” he said.
According to Munyarubuga, families draw up duty rota for grazing which enables all members to have a night off.
“We set night duties among family members. For instance if I graze for two nights…the other days are taken up by my children or hired herdsmen until the end of the season,” he said.
Due to the dry season, which affects pasture and water, milk production also decreases which in turn affects farmers’ income.
The price of milk also rises when the dry season sets in. Joseph Kayinga, a farmer in Gatsibo district, who rears cross breeds used to produce 70 litres of milk daily early this year, however, the supply has dropped to between 20-15 litres due to the dry season.
“The dry spell affects us greatly, signalling hard times for cattle farmers,” Kayinga added.
Eric Mushabe, another farmer in Kayonza district told The New Times that during this season, desperate farmers have to buy elephant grass from farmers who have plantations and hay from other processors.
According to a mini survey carried out by The New Times prior to the onset of the rainy season in the province, milk prices have been on a steady increase in the last three months.
A litre of milk costs Rwf300, up from Rwf250 at most retail shops following a drop in production.
“Early this year we used to buy a litre of milk at Rwf100. It increased to Rwf200 in April now it is at Rwf300. We are worried that by the end of this year the price will have risen to Rwf400 but thanks to the rains this is likely to drop,” Stephen Gasore, a student at Umutara Polytechnic University in Nyagatare district said.
In a bid to solve the water shortages for livestock farmers in the province, government owned project; Umutara Community Resources and Development Programme (PDRCIU), a project operating under the Ministry of Local government, has constructed many valley dams to provide water for live stock farmers.