2011: Village transformation and increased investment in agriculture

 The story that agriculture has emerged as the most appealing sector for investors this year, overtaking construction and hospitality sectors, that had previously dominated the investment scene, constitutes one of the biggest stories of the year.
Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah
Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah

 The story that agriculture has emerged as the most appealing sector for investors this year, overtaking construction and hospitality sectors, that had previously dominated the investment scene, constitutes one of the biggest stories of the year.

When one looks at the current scenario in agriculture, a lot of work has mainly been championed by government, but such a situation leaves an equally compelling question as to when the private sector will take its rightful place in a sector that offers investors high prospects for making huge returns.

It was thus quite refreshing to hear that out of over $600 million that the entire economy attracted during the course of 2011, 20 percent (over $137million) came from investors seeking opportunities within agriculture.

I have read with great interest the current transformation projects being championed by the ministry of agriculture (Minagri). Amazing village stories by any measure.

For instance, the Government Funded Irrigation projects at Kirehe and Nyagatare Districts and other parts of the country, that seek to develop a modernized irrigation scheme on almost 600 hectares. It will be the very first time Rwandans are collectively embarking on such a technologically advanced endeavor, especially on  such a massive scale.

A project of such a nature, it must be pointed out, offers a clear demonstration to stakeholders,  including those eyeing to make private investments, that the target set of putting 100,000 hectares under modernized agriculture by 2018, can be met but only with increased private sector input.

Minagri says that the emphasis of the project is to avoid dependence on rain, and to assure the general economy of a stable, affordable and nutritionally adequate food supplies for its citizens. That is the usual predictive statement by public officials. However, the story behind this  story is that very poor,  mostly marginalized subsistence farmers have a reason to smile after many years of misery.

Such subsistence farmers, mostly victims of previous regimes, having suffered for very   many years, will now, for the very first time, be using  the most modern forms of citizen led irrigation infrastructure development in the entire East African Community, to extract water from Muvumba  and Kagitumba river in Nyagatare District as well as Nasho , Cyambwe  and Mpanga  Lakes  in Kirehe Districts to grow their crops.

That is just a tip of the story. An equally compelling story is that of Minagri’s ambitious  village mechanization project, which seeks to boost uptake  of farm power and machinery for such previously marginalized farmers.

The average farm power availability for Rwandan farmers needs to be increased from the hand hoe to power driven plows,  for the purposes of assuring timely  and quality field operations.

But the real story for a journalist like me is to try to imagine farmers who previously did not have the means to own simple village assets such bicycles, being empowered to own expensive farming assets such as fuel guzzling tractors. Minagri says that it is rolling out a new programme known as  Village Mechanization Service Centers (VMSC) in Rwanda,  in areas such as Bugesera, Nyagatare, Kayonza, Nyanza, Musanze, Ngororero, Gakenke, Kirehe and Nyamagabe Districts.

That is the story that illustrates the beginning of real transformation deep inside Rwandan villages. If anything, Minagri says that such a programme has been crafted to ensure that 25 percent of farm operations in Rwanda will become mechanized by 2015, allowing one in every 4 Rwandan farmers to either own and or hire mechanization services on their farm.

However, it must be pointed that such well meaning programmes will be sustainably managed if there is greater involvement of the private sector.

The author is an editor with The New Times
Ojiwah@newtimes.co.rw

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