CHANGING LIVES : How MINAGRI is Trans forming Agriculture

Rwanda’s agricultural sector has been the flagship of the nation’s story of Africa’s and Rwanda’s indigenous-bred success in a sector that seldom obtains attention in 21st century Africa.
The new tractors that are now available to farmers (Photo by K. Odoobo)
The new tractors that are now available to farmers (Photo by K. Odoobo)

Rwanda’s agricultural sector has been the flagship of the nation’s story of Africa’s and Rwanda’s indigenous-bred success in a sector that seldom obtains attention in 21st century Africa.

In a continent where a huge majority depends on agriculture, in the light of well chronicled civil wars, corruption, and economies warped by the free promise of wealth brought by mineral wealth, the backbone of Africa’s economy has mostly been neglected and left to be fodder for poor rural people.

Not in Rwanda.

The 1994 genocide decimated Rwanda’s fragile economic base and severely impoverished the country. However, Rwanda has made substantial progress in stabilizing and rehabilitating its economy due to substantial efforts by the Government of Rwanda, mainly through the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI).

GDP has rebounded and inflation has been curbed. Despite Rwanda’s fertile ecosystem, food production has often not kept pace with population growth, requiring food imports.

After economy-wide emergency measures taken by the government, Rwanda’s agricultural output grew at a rate of almost 10% during the period 1996-2000, but performed less well since then with average growth rates of under 5% from 2001-2006 which  is a stabilization process.

In 2007, agricultural output hardly grew at all (0.7%), but in 2008 recorded a significant jump with growth rate of over 10% due to increased fertilizer usage, but also good climatic conditions.

Rwanda’s agricultural sector remains the economic backbone employing about 80% of the working population. Agriculture contributes over 30% of the national GDP and generates about 80% of total export revenues.

Therefore, one of the absolute priorities of the Rwanda Agricultural investment Plan is to achieve food and nutrition security for all Rwandans and halving poverty by increasing the productivity per hectare of staple crops which requires strengthening efforts in improved access to inputs; improved seeds, fertilizers and livestock among other initiatives

Now food security is not only achievable but is now a reality. Bumper harvests are becoming the norm other than the exception; hence government is now worried about the lack of post harvest technology around to harness the excess food available at a point in time which could be available in a time of shortage or for distribution in areas where food is not as abundant.

Traditional commercial crops, tea and coffee have resurged. The second Strategic Plan for Agricultural Transformation (PSTA II) puts a strong emphasis on increased staple crop production through the Crop Intensification Programme (CIP) particularly by smallholder farmers.

An average annual real growth rate of 5% was achieved between 1999 and 2005 and national policy and investment in agriculture demonstrated the commitment to maintain these levels of growth without compromising long-term sustainability or neglecting food security.

PSTA II stated that agriculture is explicitly recognized in the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy, 2008-2012 (EDPRS) as one of the four priority sectors that will both stimulate economic expansion and make the greatest contribution to poverty reduction – the other sectors being health, education and road maintenance.

This season 2010A, the sector has registered a 14% increase in agricultural production in comparison to the same season in 2009 due to improvement of the yield for major crops according to the season’s crop assessment report.

This report is a result of a crop assessment survey for each agricultural season by MINAGRI in collaboration with Rwanda Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR), FAO and WFP organized regularly to estimate the food balance and plan for food requirements within the next six months, and also for the estimation of the gross domestic product (GDP) and the contribution of the sector in Rwanda’s economy.

The improvement in yield is attributed mainly to the Government of Rwanda’s efforts through the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resource’s Crop Intensification Programme which include distribution of quality seeds and chemical fertilizers to farmers.

As a result, the national food security improved in 2010A with a minimum rate of 104% in Nyaruguru district and a maximum of 204% in Kirehe district in terms of calorific needs.

In 2008, Rwanda’s agricultural production grew by over 10%. For season 2008A food availability reached 2,176 kcal/ person/day and this increased to 2,343 kcal/person/day in season 2008B.

Thus, availability was well above the globally recommended daily intake of 2,100 kcal/person/day. While both production and consumption were not evenly spread across households and individuals, this nonetheless signifies a considerable increase in national food security.

Food self-sufficiency has also protected consumers from global food price increases as more smallholders are able to cover their consumption needs. In the whole country, only Nyaruguru district was not food sufficient in 2008  and because of that MINAGRI took the world food day celebrations to Nyaruguru to focus the sector players attention on raising this area as well, although the district is also heavily farmed with tea plantations, so the food insufficiency statistic may be less significant.

These efforts yielded results because in 2009, Nyaruguru joined the column of food sufficient districts in Rwanda.
Rwanda will now move to consolidate food security gains made in the last three years by putting in place mechanisms of reducing post harvest losses, and setting up strategic grain reserves to absorb bumper yields, from some sections of the country and ensure adequate food supply and distribution all year through, according to Rwanda’s Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources Dr. Agnes Kalibata, in comments made while opening a recent Agriculture Joint Sector Review Forward Looking Workshop.

The minister added that due to the recent food crisis, and associated food distribution problems resulting from bumper yields in back to back seasons which caused storage problems for unprepared farmers, necessitated a policy action by government to purchase excess food by geographical location and season, which would then be distributed to cover any respective shortages in any region of the country.

As a result, the Crop Intensification Programme which has directly contributed to increased yields and food security and emphasized that government has now seen the need to spread these benefits to more farmers by strengthening land consolidation which has contributed to initial successes, increase input access by farmers and access to small scale irrigation.

As part of these efforts, the government is funding a 5000 hectare irrigation project to secure food in Kirehe and Nyagatare districts.

The focus on intensification of crop cultivation and encouraging the production of crops suited to the different agro-climatic regions of Rwanda, including maize, Irish potatoes, cassava, wheat, rice and bananas have generated Rwanda’s version of the green revolution.

In the light of scarce land resources, MINAGRI hoped to increase productivity of available land, hence enable farmers to increase their yields by intensifying their farming on the same piece of land instead of expanding land acreage. Through this, farmers would use available resources like land, fertilizers and water to achieve their yield goals.

Farmers were encouraged to pool their resources as cooperatives, take advantages of economies of scale in procurement of inputs, utilizing extension services, bargaining for better prices and acquiring of crop insurance services.

The season 2008A was the first in which the results of the Crop Intensification Programme could truly be felt and a record yield was harvested in both seasons in 2008.

The Crop Intensification Programme has shown that it is possible to improve rural livelihoods and agricultural production in a relatively short period of time, with well targeted and well-resourced programmes.

It has also played a substantial role in bringing about the bumper harvest of 2008 and 2009, the production of the staple crops targeted by CIP increased considerably – with production increases in maize, wheat and cassava reaching 64%, 80.5% and 115.8% in2008, while in season 2010A, a 47% increase in the yield of maize while a 25% and 30% increase was registered in Irish potato and cassava respectively.

In the next fiscal year, apart from improved post harvest handling including the national strategic reserves policy, MINAGRI’s primary goal is to increase productivity through increased livestock percentage held in intensive systems from 38% to 43.5 % of livestock, increased fertilizer use from 39,200 to 47,600 metric tonnes and increased crop production and improved natural resource use.

Among other targets is diversifying production and increasing export volumes through increasing value and quality of traditional export crops by construction of the Kigali Wholesale market and development of non-export crops by promoting sericulture, intensifying horticulture, improvement of the horticultural commodity chain and construction of the Flower Park.

With the recent launch of the first ever tractor assembling plant in the country courtesy of Tong Yang Moolsan (TYM) and the government, such concerted efforts to mechanize the nation’s agricultural sector, will add to other ongoing efforts for Rwanda to achieve food security and ensure that Rwandan farmers in their quest to move from subsistence to commercial agriculture, can depend on mechanized tillage instead of using hand hoes to increase their acreage as well as save time and money by opening big tracts of land.

The willingness of the government to extend affordable accessible tractor services to farmers who perhaps had never thought that mechanized tilling would be done in their lifetime, is an expression of the kind of commitments the government is willing to make to develop the sector.

MINAGRI still has a tall order as far as modernization of agriculture is concerned but under the guidance of minister Kalibata’s pragmatic and professional guidance, MINAGRI’s dedicated team and the unwavering commitment of government, the sector can only rise further.