Burera District in the Northern Province is blessed with rich arable soils owing to its strategic location but this did not guarantee food security for the residents until 2008 when the crop intensification programme was rolled out in the province.
Under this programme, each region concentrates on a particular crop that can suitably be planted there on a large scale.
It was decided then that Burera farmers concentrate on maize as the flagship crop which they started growing on a large scale, through cooperatives.
“This has transformed my life. I have achieved many things I looked foward to,” says Sabine Sinzamuhara, who has since established a maize mill in Butaro town.
Sinzamuhara, a former primary school teacher, abandoned the classroom and has since emerged as a model maize farmer.
The farmers said they faced multiple challenges previously. But through the cooperatives, they have managed to collectively negotiate for better prices for their produce and value addition on their produce among other advantages.
Joseph Zaraduhaye, the Burera vice-mayor in charge of economic affairs, says the majority of residents were smallholder subsistence farmers and sold their produce in raw form even during bumper harvest hence fetching so little.
“They suffered hunger, had limited access to markets because they produced so little and the result for all this was a vicious cycle of poverty,” Zaraduhaye said.
He noted that since they joined cooperatives, their harvest increased and profits multiplied. There are five agricultural cooperatives in the district.
Maize rice “Ucerigori”
Through value addition, the community has invented what they call the ‘maize-rice’, or ‘Ucerugori’ which they make through mashing corn and a kilogramme is sold at Rwf500.
In an interview with The New Times, Jean Providence Bigirimana, a farmer and president of Ihute Udasigara Cooperative, said they have overcome the main constraints that faced individual farmers, especially insufficient storage facilities and poor drying technology.
He said with support from the Food and Agriculture Organisation, they have purchased simple farming equipment that they use to mash the cob into the ‘maize rice.’
“Many of us have learnt how to mix, we even do it in our homes,” he said.
“Previously, we could not afford rice, but we are now making ours. For many of us, it was the first time to consume it,” said Chantal Nyirafaranga, one of the members of the co-operative.
Nyirafaranga added that another advantage of ucerigori is that it uses less firewood unlike cooking corns.
“‘Maize rice’ has been our main meal here as it’s more economical for us compared to ordinary rice. It is suitable for children, the sick and elderly. I serve it with beans and carrot sauce to my family. It’s easy and quick to prepare,” Nyirafaranga said, with a smile.
Despite maize being a major source of food for many residents in Burera, there was no grain mill which forced many to trek long distances for the service.
That is when Sabine Sinzamuhara, an area resident, established a maize mill in Butaro town.
“I was inspired by a radio programme that promoted agribusiness as well as government programme on self-employment and job creation,” says Sinzamuhara.
She says her mill processes two tonnes of maize daily and main products; ‘maize rice,’ maize flour and maize feed for animals which she supplies to marketplaces, schools and livestock farmers.
“I concentrated on maize due to the high returns of the crop in the area.”