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January 18, 2010

Measures to boost agriculture bear fruit in Rwanda

Rwanda has recorded a sharp improvement in food security following the government's measures to boost agricultural production in 2009, officials said.
The government implemented a new agricultural strategy, which included timely distribution of seed and fertilizer, adoption of market-oriented farming methods and encouraging farmers to consolidate land.

"Timely distribution of farming inputs like fertilizers as well as improved seeds and a land consolidation programme boosted the sector in 2009," according to a report by the government-run Rwanda Agriculture Development Authority on the Crop Intensification Programme.

Agricultural officials said the strategy, coupled with improved crop husbandry methods, boosted the output of major food crops such as maize, potatoes, cassava and rice.

Agnes Kalibata, Minister for Agriculture and Animal Resources, said the government's aim was to end reliance on imported food by boosting local production. "We have the land, the physical and human resources to achieve our target," she said.

According to data from the Rwanda Agriculture Development Authority, maize output in 2009 increased to 286,948MT from 166,853MT in 2008 while wheat output reached 72,478MT from 67,868MT in 2008. During the same period, the production of Irish potatoes increased to 1.3 million MT from 1.1 million MT and rice production hit 95,105MT from 82,024MT in 2008.

Thanks to 2009’s bumper harvests, Rwanda’s grain reserves currently stand at 200,000MT, according to an official in the ministry of agriculture. This is enough to meet domestic food demand for eight months.

Under the Crop Intensification Programme, focus was on farming methods such as mulching and irrigation, aimed at ending reliance on changing weather patterns. Farmers were also discouraged from operating small fragmented farmlands and, officials said, the practice had particularly benefited maize farmers in Western Province, who are now cultivating in large plantations on a communal basis.

"Average maize yields in the province are now around 7MT per hectare, from an average of 4MT two years ago," said Paul Munyakazi, a research associate with USAID in the province. He attributed the increase to better seeds and successful education campaigns.

According to Pius Hitimana, head of a development and advocacy NGO, Bureau Social de Gitarama, the success of the government's agricultural programme was mainly due to rigorous efforts to control erosion.

"Farmers are not allowed to rear cattle on hilly slopes; this has helped in maintaining the integrity of terraces. Most importantly, people are now realizing that it's not just enough to practise subsistence farming," he said.

Rwanda’s target is to increase terraced land from 193,735ha to 1,000,400ha by the end of 2010.

On irrigation, Hitimana said farmers were not utilizing water resources well, mainly due to inappropriate technology and lack of funding. The crops benefiting from irrigation are those being cultivated in low-lying areas, such as rice, he added.

According to the National Institute of Statistics, improved food production in 2009 has stabilized food prices since September. Maize, cassava, potatoes, beans and peas remain stable, with some prices edging downwards.

The devastating effect of the banana wilt disease has meant that only bananas have recorded a price increase since September.

With an estimated nine million people occupying 26,338 sqkm of land and birth rates of 3.1 percent per annum, Rwanda remains one of the most densely populated countries in the world, making it prone to food insecurity.


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