Does the rain season prepare Rwandan farmers for drought?

When you move around the countryside, you do not see people taking seriously the rain season we are enjoying. They are waiting to shed tears during the dry season when food is scarce and expensive.
Rwandan women growing beans under the shade of banana trees.
Rwandan women growing beans under the shade of banana trees.

When you move around the countryside, you do not see people taking seriously the rain season we are enjoying. They are waiting to shed tears during the dry season when food is scarce and expensive.

Yet, a country like Rwanda should not be having problems of famine and hunger when it boasts of good climate throughout the year. Rwanda’s climate is made up of two wet seasons and two dry seasons.

The short wet season lasts from October to November, and the main rain season is from mid-March to the end of May. The dry seasons only lasts from December to mid-March and from June to the end of August.

We cannot therefore blame the climate, for it gives, all ‘nature’ has to give, within our geographic spacing. The challenge lies in our hands-to mobilize each individual family to produce enough food, at least to feed itself.

There must be a difference between a peasant and an employed person, at least at the level of food production for home consumption.

“I do not understand why a peasant, like me, should go to buy cassava in the market. Peasants here attend markets like most of us who never get time to go and produce our own food,” remarked Samuel Murenzi, a medical practitioner in Butare.

On many occasions, you will find young men and girls loitering, sometimes shamelessly drinking local beer popularly known as Urwagwa, during work hours-this is wrong, and local administrators take the blame of not addressing the issue.

Furthermore, even those who go to the gardens do not respect the working hours of a typical African farmer using a hand hoe.

The minimum hours an ‘African child’ spends in a garden, cultivating daily is 5 hours-the maximum is 12 hours for those hard working people, who are mostly engaged in plantations and irrigation schemes.

“Nikienda shamba saa kuminamoja asubuhi, narundi tena saa hizo hizo jioni- when I go to my garden at five in the morning, I come back at the same time in the evening,” said James Mpadugi, a rice grower in central Tanzania, Tabora.

The climate of Tabora is generally hot (20 to 32 degrees), with relative humidity ranging from 25 to 65%, and the rainfall ranges from 650 to 850 mm per year. Its soils are poor and generally exhausted and yet, it produces a lot of rice.

When you are using a hand hoe, time factor is very important and if you neglect it, then you are sure not to harvest enough even for your small family. This is the great undoing of our peasants in Rwanda-they spend very little time on their farms.

Apart from time, one also has to consider the type of crops to grow, for the family to be free of hunger for the whole year. “Our people insist on growing few beans under the shed of banana trees.

We have tried to discourage them by imposing heavy punishments for those who continue the practice, but they are not changing”, said Jean Damascene Maniraho, a seemingly at ease agriculturist in Musha.

The choice made by our farmers when growing crops constitutes our problems in food production, and again sets a great challenge to local leaders.

It is their work to sensitize the population on what to grow. No one should claim to fail like Maniraho-you either do it or resign, because people have to feed themselves.

Cereal crops and some other food crops like cassava, yams, (known as Ingandurarugo in Kinyarwanda), should be given due consideration, if we are to satisfy our own families in rural areas.

When the idea of fostering a green revolution was echoed in Rwanda, we expected it, to be embraced wholly, but alas, it was not.

Our peasants/farmers should be taught how to apply some scientific methods when growing crops. Manure and artificial fertilizers must be used, especially, when one has a very small land to use for farming-you know land is cultivated from time to time and nutrients are exhausted.

We again put to task local leaders to get out of offices, wear gumboots and help the peasants. You do not need to be an agriculturalist to teach peasants how to use fertilizers timely and scientifically-you only need to make it available.

We have been wrong on this track! Using fertilizers would be cumbersome for an illiterate farmer, but not a learned person, because he or she uses his intellectual background to get it so easily.

It is in this line, that we argue the ministry concerned to put task local leaders to ensure that they eradicate hunger in their respective areas of jurisdiction. Imihigo or performance contracts based on this idea would serve the purpose-you know it is ‘do it or die’.

Lastly, we must be able to domesticate the environment, if we are to leave anything for the future posterity.
It is in the same line that, we should avoid over dependence on the rainy season alone. Water harvesting is a long time song in Rwanda that we at times feel ashamed to rehearse.

Today it is the rain season, tomorrow will be different, so what are we doing to make good of the season, in terms of growing crops and harvesting water? This is a season which is supposed to prepare us for a happy dry one, on full stomachs.

Let young rural men and women, local leaders, etc, change their attitude towards work. And as for those who have totally refused to be engaged in any work, they are doomed and need to re-examine their lives.

Remember Aristotle the great philosopher of the time, warned us thus, “that unexamined life is not worth living”.


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