22 October 2012

Rwanda: Rema Cautions Use of Chemical Fertilisers

Photo: Olivier Asselin/FAO
A woman watering soil to prepare the ground before planting cabbage in Thiaye, Senegal

Too much use of chemical fertilisers on farmlands will be counterproductive in the long-run, the country's top environment watchdog has cautioned.

The warning, by the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (Rema), comes at a time when the government is employing everything possible to increase the country's agricultural produce to scale up both food security and exports.

REMA asserts that although chemical fertilisers multiply crop yield, their long term use is detrimental to the environment with irreversible effects to the soil composition.

The Ministry of Agriculture has announced plans to privatize chemical fertilizer importation and distribution in order to make the trade more competitive and stretched countrywide.

However, in its latest information sheet, Rema asserts, "Locally, farmers started questioning the use of chemical fertilisers since some of their crop yields were rejected at the international market, simply because they are chemically grown."

Rema attributes this to the ongoing debate by environmentalists worldwide who are calling for a halt in use of chemical fertilisers and for a switch to organic fertilisers.

"More investments in organic farming promotion would be much essential by fostering organic manure production initiatives a better way to reduce the total of imported chemical fertilisers," Alphonse Mutabazi, an environmentalist at Rema is quoted as saying.

Chemical fertilisers are any inorganic material of wholly or partially synthetic origin that are added to the soil to sustain plant growth, while organic fertilisers are substances that are derived from the remains or by products of organisms which contain the essential nutrients for plant growth.

The environmental protection body further argues that on top of undermining soil conditions, chemical fertilisers are more expensive than organic fertilisers.

"While one bag of 25kg- NPK 17 costs Rwf28 000, a 100kg bag of poultry organic fertilizer costs only Rwf3500 and is used on a wider ground than NPK," Francois Ndikubwimana, an agricultural expert, said.

However, the Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB) believes that the level of chemical fertilizer use in Rwanda is still too low to cause alarm.

"Developed countries, for example, have reached the level of using 100kg of chemical fertilizer per hectare compared to our level of 20 kg per ha, we are far below compared to international levels. Besides, farmers ought to do a mix of both the chemical and the organic fertilisers for them to get good results," said Innocent Musabyimana, Deputy Director in charge of Agriculture at RAB.

The government as the sole importer of chemical fertilisers imports over 18,000 metric tonnes each year.

It, however, plans take on an overseeing role as it paves way for the private sector to run the business by 2016.

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