How farmers cope with climate change

Tharcisse Semaguge might be 88 today, but to him, age is just a number. And the other numbers in his life that he proudly talks about beside the age makes the figure 75—the number of years he has spent farming.
Farmers work in their rice field in Rwasave marshland, Gisagara district last weekend.  The New Times/ JP Bucyensenge.
Farmers work in their rice field in Rwasave marshland, Gisagara district last weekend. The New Times/ JP Bucyensenge.

Tharcisse Semaguge might be 88 today, but to him, age is just a number. And the other numbers in his life that he proudly talks about beside the age makes the figure 75—the number of years he has spent farming.

The resident of Save sector in Gisagara district says agriculture remains his sole bread winner and source of revenue.

But, a few years ago, his fate came to stake mainly due to changes in temperature and precipitation which he says are affecting his production in terms of quality and quantity.

Clad in khaki-like weather-beaten trousers, navy shirt, an old dark-orange cowboy hat on his head and carrying a hoe in his hand, the barefooted Semaguge follows a pathway snaking through Rwasave marshland to Cyinteko, a nearby village.

It is around midday and the old man has been working in his rice plantation in the swamp. His brows are perspiring.

In the past years, Semaguge relied on upland agriculture, but he says it has become unsustainable as a result of changes in times. He has now turned to ‘paddy fields’ in the nearby marshland for survival.

“Rains have dropped. I used to harvest a lot of sorghum in my [upland] field, but today they cannot grow. Crops are performing poorly,” the elder laments. “There have been a lot of changes [in precipitations and temperatures], which have affected our activities and lives in general.”

Hundreds of metres away, Uwimana, 43, another farmer, is busy working in her field. She echoes the old man’s feelings.

“Sometimes you plant but you can’t harvest due to high temperatures which kills the crop before they mature,” the woman says. “I think farming in wet areas is a solution to farmers. Otherwise, upland farming is unpredictable.”

But still, the farmers maintain they still grow beans and some other subsistence crops despite the changes in climate.

“There are some crops that are so important that we can’t do without them. Like beans for instance,” Uwimana says. “You just sow seeds but you are not sure you will harvest.”

Climatic hazards

Statistics indicate that about 90 per cent of Rwanda’s 10.5 million people depend on agriculture. However, the sector still endures rough terrain, erosion, lack of technology as well as climatic hazards.

A few years ago, Semaguge knew exactly when it was the right time to plant. That has since changed. The old man, like many other farmers today, says rains have become more unpredictable.

Narcisse Nyabyenda, 48, says it is increasingly becoming difficult for subsistence farmers to produce enough food they need to survive. To adjust with the times, he says, they have started focusing on crops that are grown in wetland.

Efforts from farmers are supported by policies put in place to improve agricultural production, including the use of improved varieties, land consolidation, extensive use of fertilisers and irrigation.

According to Faustin Munyazikwiye, a climate change expert at the Rwanda Environmental Management Authority, many strategies could help farmers adapt to climate change.

He cites soil conservation techniques, introducing agro-forestry, new crop varieties, irrigation and empowering farmers with information and adaptation toolkits.

Rainfall irregularities


Rwanda has in the past few years experienced heavy rain in some parts of the country. A fortnight ago, torrential rain, which came with gusty winds and hailstorms battered Kigali, leaving six people dead and scores of property destroyed.

The Rwanda Meteorological Agency has warned that some districts will experience heavy rains between April and May.

For Munyazikwiye, having a strong early warning system, which can provide accurate forecast and alert farmers before a downpour or drought can be a successful strategy in a sector that relies on weather.

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