In spite of the various challenges that face farmers in Rwanda in their quest to increase crop yields and increase the profitability of their farming enterprises, it is a comforting thought that the Rwanda government has taken steadfast steps in ensuring that the agricultural sector, with its prominent role in the economy, moves in the direction that is desired by putting in place the necessary institutions, creating a favorable environment and in the case of fertilizers, taking on the role of procuring and subsiding inputs.
In line with the current global thinking that defeating poverty in Africa has a lot to do with modernizing agriculture, in order to economically lift over sixty percent of Africa’s population. As far as the case of Rwanda is concerned, almost 89 % of the novel approach, it has undertaken is certain to bear fruit.
According to International Fund for Agriculture Development’s rural poverty portal, the causes of poverty in Rwanda are population increase unmatched by increase in agricultural productivity, the rough terrain and erosion combined with lack of technology placing serious constraints on agricultural development and the fact that Rwanda is landlocked, the closest port being 1,500 kilometers from Kigali.
To begin with, efforts to terrace slopes for use in agriculture and to manage wetlands, some of which have been reclaimed for agriculture use are a major step forward. But it is generally agreed that with limited land resources, the easiest way to develop agriculture and decrease poverty is by increasing agricultural productivity from the available farms.
The role of technology, especially as regards use of agricultural inputs like fertilizer, pesticides, mechanizing agriculture to a certain level, must be given its due importance, if Rwanda is to lift the poverty levels of farmers.
A good proportion of farmers in Rwanda are aware that soils have been depleted of their nutrients due to decades of centuries of soil mining by crops, and in areas like Musanze, local input shops do roaring business with sale of common fertilizers like Urea, DAP and NPK 17:17:17 which is a commendable thing, but the downside is that farmers are completely unaware of the nutrients that a re lacking in the soil, in many cases, it is a matter of simply stuffing ‘food’ into the soil, irrespective of the crop needs.
For example, if you asked any coffee farmers, they will tell you that the right fertilizer for coffee is NPK 20:10:10 when a lot of coffee specialists will tell you that the most severe nutrient deficiency in many coffee growing areas in Rwanda is a variety of micronutrients which have been depleted over the years, and cannot be adequately replenished even by organic manure.
So in a way, one of the things that the government should seriously be thinking about is providing an up-to-date soil analysis map for extension officers to base on while making recommendations for nutrient supplementation. So as much as government action to bridge the gap of fertilizer availability to farmers through its collaboration with Clinton Foundation, it should also critically look at if the fertilizer that will specifically address the shortage of specific nutrients in the soils.
The same is almost replicated in use of pesticides in such sectors such as vegetable growing especially amount the small holder growers. It is no secret that the most popular pesticide in Rwanda by far is Dithane (maconzeb is its active ingredient), a protective fungicide against many fungal diseases in Irish potato, tomatoes and vegetables in general.
Due to repeated use of this product for over decades coupled with its misuse specifically in the potato and tomato sectors, the fungal diseases must have or will eventually develop pesticide resistance.
It is appalling to note that farmers in many areas use this fungicide as treatment against rain, thus, repeating application every other time it rains, even if it did so for two or three days in row. Fungal infestations intensify during the wet seasons, but that is not an excuse to apply a fungicide three times in three days.
In one case, a farmer confessed to mixing urea (a soil-applied fertilizer) and dithane to spray on cabbages. First of all, this mixture could potentially react to form a different product that will either scorch/burn the crop or become ineffective against the disease. Instead potato and tomato growers should look towards more effective fungicide brands like Victory.
This misuse of products also point to a deficiency in the agricultural extension service available to farmers at the grassroots. In areas where agricultural development has occurred, agricultural extension is usually best executed in partnership or entirely by the private sector, because to be successful, extension services need to be demand driven.
If farmers got good advise from a private input seller that increases his/her yields, they will definitely be motivated to seek for more information from this seller hence more input sales and profit for the seller.
This is why the entry of an African multi-national agro-input seller, like Balton, heralds a new face in Rwanda’s agriculture. With Balton’s provision of quality pesticides, fertilizers and spray pumps, in addition to free agronomy advice for farmers, follow-up and general technical advice on safe and effective use of pesticides, individual farmers and farmer cooperatives will begin to notice the benefit of a demand-driven extension service. In fact, in the near future, the government will see no need to continue procuring fertilizers.
In spite of the major challenges of mechanizing agriculture in Rwanda due to the hilly terrain, the strides achieved in terms of formation of cooperatives, achieving recognition of the coffee and tea brands of Rwanda as some of the best and most recognizable in the world, Rwanda can build on the achievements it had made in agricultural development, specializing in the small unique advantages (like Israel which is leads in agricultural technologies despite of being a desert country) that it enjoys over its neighbors, to become an agricultural role model in Eastern Africa.
The author is an agronomist based inKigali and can be reached at "firstname.lastname@example.org"