The Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Agnes Kalibata, has advised farmers against growing non-priority crops, like sorghum, during the next season, as it would affect the country's food security targets.
The minister made the call, yesterday, amid growing debate on various local FM stations, whereby farmers, mainly in the Northern and Eastern provinces, are arguing that since they grew priority crops in Season A, they should be left to grow crops of their choice in Season B.
Farmers insist that they should be allowed to grow sorghum, a non-priority crop, according to government, during the shorter Season B, which starts in January through June.
Kalibata noted that during Season B, farmers tend to grow sorghum instead of maize, observing that the former cannot sustain food security of the country, as it is not part of the 'food basket crops.'
Under the Crop Intensification Programme (CIP), maize, beans, rice, wheat and cassava are some of the crops earmarked as 'priority crops.'
"No one is being forced to grow maize, but our reasoning is that sorghum cannot sustain the country. People should grow crops that can sustain them during the dry season".
"You find that mainly those who insist on growing sorghum want it for alcohol brewing purposes. We cannot put alcohol above food security," Kalibata said.
Sorghum is a major ingredient of local alcohol brewing industry but its flour can also be used to make porridge for family consumption.
Farmers in the districts of Rulindo and Gakenke allege that sorghum make up the traditional family menu and should not be left out among priority crops, but Kalibata said that it is an excuse used for those who want to use it to produce alcohol.
"Sorghum has no commercial value, you cannot sell it anywhere and even then, you cannot compare its nutrition importance with that of maize".
"If everybody wants to grow sorghum, what do we do? So we encourage them to grow food security crops like maize and beans. This also means we can have market in the region if there is a surplus," she noted.
She said the government priority under the CIP is to ensure that all households have enough food for themselves and surplus for sell.
"These are the crops that will largely improve our food security and we want to double production. There is not much land to grow crops that don't contribute to the country's food security. Our target is to promote food and not be driven by sentiments," Kalibata added.
She said the ministry is currently conducting a crop assessment exercise to ascertain what Season A, which started in September, will yield, noting that a bumper harvest of maize is expected.
"We expect to have a very good harvest of maize, with about 300,000 tonnes in excess. We are mobilising buyers to see that farmers get market for the surplus - this is the challenge we have now".
She noted that her ministry has projected an excess of 120,000 tonnes of beans, adding that parts of the country, which usually experience dry spells, including the Eastern and Southern provinces, did not experience any this time.
Kalibata said that sorghum does not only lack market, but also does not have available implements such as fertilisers particularly and high yield breeds to support the intensification programme.