12 February 2013

Rwanda: IRST Revives Moringa Growing

Thousands of moringa tree seedlings were in 2001 planted for nutritional and medicinal purposes in Bugesera, Huye and Kayonza districts.

The campaign, spearheaded by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Institute of Scientific and Technological Research (IRST), was supposed to benefit WFP-supported hospitals with therapeutic feeding centres, schools, refugee camps, people living with HIV/Aids and beneficiaries of food-for-work projects.

Moringa trees were from that time distributed countrywide and people were mobilised to plant trees which were given free of charge.

It was also hoped that six months after planting, families and institutions would have been able to use the leaves, fruit, flowers, bark, seeds and gum of the Moringa trees for nutritional and medicinal purposes. Moringa tree seed pod is used for water purification to kill microbes.

The farmers and cooperatives which engaged in the plantation were promised a wide market when the production is over.

But only after few months, the farmers saw no market and abandoned the crop.

Farmers and cooperatives The New Times talked to say they had since started uprooting moringa trees and planted other kinds of plants after counting losses.

However, last week IRST signed a memorandum of understanding with two tertiary institutions to develop and market moringa in Rwanda.

The universities that signed memorandum with IRST are the Higher Institute of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry (ISAE Busogo) and Umutara Polytechnic.

Under the deal, the parties will conduct a market survey and find out the plant coverage among farmers.

"The memorandum we signed aimed at promoting moringa. Previously farmers faced the problem of lack of market for moringa. Now we have identified the market and people should not worry about it," said Dr Jean Baptiste Nduwayezu, the director-general of IRST.

He added that schools, hospitals and prisons are the mostly targeted market in Rwanda. WFP will also buy moringa produce.

The mass planting drive of moringa will be carried out this year and there is a variety of seeds which will be distributed countrywide, according to Nduwayezu.

The acting Rector of ISAE Busogo, Dr Laetitia Nyinawamwiza, said the plant should be promoted due to its enormous benefirts, including medicine, and food.

"What we want is to first identify the availability of the market before we mobilise people so that it doesn't fail again," said Nyinawamwiza.

Farmer's concerns

Laurent Gasasira, a leader of Miyove village of Muyumbu sector in Rwamagana district, said the area had embraced moringa plantation but did not benefit from it.

"We were told that we will benefit from Moringa as a new cash crop and most of us uprooted other crops to plant moringa. Unfortunately, nobody followed to see the produce and buy it," said Gasasira, as he pointed to vast lands were moringa trees were cut.

"The owner of the farm used to employ more than 10 employees per day and they were regularly supposed to be around to take care of the farm. However, when the trees were ready for harvest, the farmer lacked market and his produce was all damaged," he added.

Another farmer from Bugesera district was pessimistic, saying it will be difficult to convince farmers to readopt moringa farming.

"When we heard of moringa for the first time, we were all excited and planted as many trees as possible. But what shocked us is that or produce was all damaged and we no longer think of moringa," he said preferring anonymity.

Other farmers also said they had incurred losses from moringa and have no desire to grow it again.

Agriculture board comments

Dr Jean Jacques Mbonigaba, the Director General of Rwanda Agriculture Board, acknowledges there was no attention given to farmers after the plant was first introduced.

"The problem was that investors mobilised farmers to plant moringa but they did not provide the market which led to losses to the farmers. If market is not considered business fails and that it is what happened to the farmers," he told The New Times.

He said that if farmers are to reengage in moringa plantation, all related institutions should first clarify how broad the market is so they do not put farmers again in losses.

He said that once the production is ready, National Agriculture and Export Board (NAEB) will also buy it as Moringa is a potential cash crop.

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