The food crisis has awakened the world to what may become a problem to every household regardless of status as food prices continue to soar.
Even to those that are financially stable complaints are that food prices are unusually high.
But amidst the crisis there are those benefiting financially by hiking prices thus worsening the pangs of those already downtrodden by the dire situation.
In this regard, the Rwanda government seems to be aiming at hitting three birds with one stone; battling the food crisis, using agriculture to further boost the economy and alleviating poverty.
As the crisis continues, the United Nations (UN) has designated 82 countries as Low Income Deficit Countries [LIFDCs].
Forty two of these are African countries. The importation bill of cereal to African LIFDC is speculated to be greater in 2008 after UN noted that in 2007 the bill increased by $7bn which is more than a half.
The question is whether there is hope for those already suffering the spasms of the food crisis as the global crisis deepens?
Some are subsistence farmers with local methods of farming that only make paltry productions with little capacity to stretch to their daily necessities.
However, Rwanda is not keeping silent as the food crisis takes its toll on its economy.
Rwanda’s economy like that of many other African countries, is largely dependent on agriculture with a GDP of 37 percent while providing 80 percent employment.
But the production capacity was undeveloped mostly in rural areas cutting down on the country’s agricultural potential.
With an agricultural development project in place the Rwandan government is playing a successful role in the rural areas to strengthen agricultural production.
In 2001, the Rwandan government mooted the Rural Sector Support Project [RSSP], with an objective to alleviate poverty by devising ways of stepping up production in rural areas. The project was to indirectly make firm the agricultural backbone of the country.
With this progamme, the rural dweller would be taught how to commercialize his production efforts, stepping up from the subsistence level.
RSSP was to be implemented in three phases to systematically boost and concretize the production capacity in rural areas as a key pillar to the economy and consequently alleviate poverty.
Later, the World Bank (WB) collaborated with the government, in this project, which was then divided into three phases.
The first phase, a $48million project, themed, “unlocking rural growth to increase incomes and reduce poverty” kicked off in 2001 and was scheduled to run for seven years.
It focused on capacity building, rehabilitation of marshlands, introduction of new farming methods like irrigation, use of fertilizers to boost quality of yields and construction of infrastructure to facilitate access to market.
The first phase which was officially closed at prime holdings on 2nd October had gone a long way to change the culture of subsistence production to a commercial one.
Jolly Dusabe the project coordinator revealed that: “3110 hectares of marshland land had been rehabilitated thus providing land to 25, 528 households.”
Dusabe also stated that: “14, 485hectares of hillside around the rehabilitated marshland were protected from erosion using terracing, tree planting and other methods.”
In addition, “9 dams, 315.7kmof irrigation canals, 52.3 km of drainage canals and 3, 649 hectares studies done and works will be executed in RSSP2.”
On rehabilitation of land there was an immediate change in production with “an increase in rice yields from 3.1t/ha to 6.5t/ha and the planting seasons increased from one to two per year,” she said.
With the farmers response showing a successful trend in agricultural production an infrastructural construction strategy was devised to bridge the producer to the market.
“We also put in place structures to help the farmer get his produce to the market and this includes 23 markets, 24 bridges, 71 storage facilities, 10 milk collecting centers, 125 drying grounds, 48km of rural feeder roads,” Dusabe said.
With the new transformations to be effectively implemented, capacity building was required to enlighten the rural dwellers on how to embrace and professionally sustain the rural developments.
Dusabe stated that, “6, 307 farmers were trained, 94 cooperatives were trained in the whole country, 22 NGO’s were trained in facilitation and technical skills, 120 engineers and 15 scientists were also trained.”
A credit scheme dabbed Rural Investment Facility [RIF] with subsidized loans to 40 percent was also providing start up capital to farmers in a bid to increase the rural dwellers,’ household incomes in a determined fight against poverty.
Dusabe revealed that in the seven year period the biggest chunk of loans disbursed was to those with livestock projects.
“According to the percentage volume of loans disbursed 8% was to the small animal husbandry, 2 percent to commercialization of inputs, 4 percent to the commercialization in produce, 31 percent to processing, 36 percent to cattle, and 19 percent to agriculture,” she said.
As capacity building enlightens the rural multitudes to the realization of commercialization and the new markets increasingly pilling with harvests, the project is said to be successfully swerving the nation towards food security.
Recently, the first phase was closed with the launch of a $38million second phase.
RSSP2 is already underway to consolidate RSSP1.
Christopher Bazivamo, the Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources said that the second phase which will take four years but is intended to: “extend from primary commodity production into post-harvest value adding activities,”
Bazivamo added that the project, “contributes significantly to national food security, as more than 90 percent of all food consumed in the country is domestically produced.”
Despite the successes achieved by the project the minister pointed out that there are still setbacks in the pace of implementation.
“Agriculture Production is not increasing in a consistent manner due to many factors such as poor land management practices, use of traditional methods of farming, slow adoption to new technologies due to the illiteracy,” he cited.
But he said that the second phase is meant to build on the developments of the first phase.
“By the end of this project at least 50 percent of the farmers should have adopted sustainable marshland and hillside intensification technologies.”
Dusabe said that with the second phase, “we expect to have done 3649 hectares of marshland rehabilitation. Increased attention to water management issues, strengthen commodity chains, improving production technologies, organizations can apply for grants from Local Development Fund.”
After the second phase, will be a third phase- RSSP3- directed at, “promoting diversification of economic activities in rural areas as a way of increasing and stabilizing rural incomes.”
So, with an aggressive project trickling its development efforts to the grass roots, a successful agricultural awakening is being made in Rwanda and the food crisis is being quelled.