Musanze pyrethrum farmers decry ‘mistreatment’ by processing firms

Farmers in Bisate, Musanze District have decried what they termed as ‘forcing’ them to grow pyrethrum against their will because they are occupying government land.
A farmer picking pyrethrum flowers. Some farmers are accusing processing firms of harassment. The New Times / File
A farmer picking pyrethrum flowers. Some farmers are accusing processing firms of harassment. The New Times / File

Farmers in Bisate, Musanze District have decried what they termed as ‘forcing’ them to grow pyrethrum against their will because they are occupying government land.

farmers interviewed by Business Times said the crop does not benefit them as its prices are very low. They added that they risk starvation because whenever they cultivate food crops, including Irish potatoes, maize and beans on the land, they are uprooted by agents of pyrethrum processing firms.

The 72 square metres land is reported to have been given to Bisate residents in 1968, who signed deals with the government to use it solely for pyrethrum growing.

In an interview, residents of Bisate said most of them eat one meal a day since all the land is under pyrethrum, which takes over a year to mature.

Dorcella Mukamanzi, one of the disgruntled farmers, said they should not be forced to grow pyrethrum because of its poor earnings.

“We should not be stopped from cultivating food crops on the land… If we grow potatoes we get enough food and money to send our children to school. So, the government should let us rotate the crops,” she pleaded.

“We cannot fight the government as it owns all the land but we belong to the government too. They should listen to our cries before forcing us to grow crops we do not want,” she added.

Jerome Mugenzi, the Musanze District vice-mayor in charge of economic affairs, said when the authorities discovered that the people weren’t using the land for its original use, they reminded them about the contracts they signed with the government, but the farmers kept a deaf ear.

“Most of them weren’t aware of the contracts signed 53 years ago, while others had bequeathed their plots to their children, who fragmented them, thus, making pyrethrum growing hard,” Mugenzi said.

Fidele Rwamungu, another pyrethrum farmer, said though they earn some money from pyrethrum, it is too little to sustain their lives. “We are growing pyrethrums but it is other people who are benefitting, not the farmers,” he said.

Rwamungu claimed that if they do not grow pyrethrum on the land, officials from Horizon Sopyrwa, the firm which buys and processes the crop, come and uproot other crops they find in the gardens. “So, we just grow pyrethrum for the sake of it,” he said, adding that farmers do not want to lose their land.

These views are shared by several farmers in Musanze District.

However, according to the Musanze District deputy mayor, the authorities are emphasising pyrethrum growing to help people living near Virunga National Park to have a sustainable source of income to improve their livelihoods.

Mugenzi said the farmers in Bisate should know that growing pyrethrum is for their own good not the government’s since most of them are poor with no source of sustainable income.

“It is for their good. Besides, pyrethrum boosts soil fertility. We have to guide our people on what is best for them; that’s why we cannot let them grow only potatoes,” he said.

Gabriel Bizimungu, the Horizon Sopyrwa general manager, refuted the farmers’ allegations, saying the company was instead helping them earn how to use the land for both pyrethrum and food crop growing.

He urged farmers whose land is not designated for pyrethrum growing to take on the crop because it has a ready market. A kilogramme of pyrethrum dried extract is at Rwf1,080.

“We are offering farmers many services, including 150 agronomists who are helping them. And we give them free seeds and fertilisers and other benefits as pyrethrum farmers,” he said.

He explained that when calculated in monetary terms, services and help offered to farmers together amounts to over Rwf3,000 per kilo.

“That’s why we buy the crop at Rwf1,080 per kilo,” he added.

The firm make a natural organic pesticide from pyrethrum generally considered to be better than the artificial synthetic pesticides that are expensive and pose health risks.

Pyrethrum production increased since from six tonnes in 2009 to around 27 tonnes in 2012.

Epimaque Nsanzabaganwa, the head of horticulture production division at the National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB), noted that pyrethrum farmers needed to change their mindsets.

“Farmers need to understand that pyrethrum growing conserves soil, this helps them get good harvests when they rotate it with others crops. Besides, growing food crops continuously without rotating them with pyrethrum will lead to poor harvests,” Nsanzabaganwa said.

He advised the farmers to embrace pyrethrum growing because it will get them out of poverty.

“We are targeting to boost pyrethrum yield by increasing sensitisation about it benefits. We hope that this will increase production to over one tonne per hectare,” he said.

He noted that NAEB would sensitise farmers on how best to grow and benefit from the crop.

Up to 7,000 homes in Nyabihu, Musanze, Burera and Rubavu districts grow pyrethrum and depend on the crop for income.

Pyrethrum is one of the cash crops the government is promoting to expand the country’s exports base.