The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Experts Call for Mechanisation to Spur Agriculture Production

Rwanda should embrace agriculture mechanisation and other innovative technologies to ensure sustainable food production, agro-economists have advised.

They say encouraging farmers to adopt irrigation, use fertilisers and planting of disease and drought resistant crops will help enhance production. They also urge the government to link farmers to lenders and markets, Narcisse Ndagijimana, the Private Sector Federation's Chamber of Agriculture director general, said.

He added that the private sector is ready to play a big role to help turn around the sector if it gets the necessary support.

"If we intervene in a big way, it will help increase production, create employment opportunities and boost the export sector and grow the economy," he said.

Innocent Musabyimana, the deputy director in charge of agricultural extension at the Rwanda Agricultural Board, said the board is working with stakeholders, including local government and co-operatives at the grassroots, to ensure better output.

He said the board will devise mechanisms to raise agro-production, citing the for land consolidation, doubling inorganic and organic fertiliser supplies, and ensuring that farmers plant in time.

David Mills, director of Weather Safe Rwanda, a UK-based firm that tracks crop performance using hi-tech means, pointed out that it is essential to provide farmers modern equipment and relevant information.

"Farmers need, not only equipment, but also information about variations in weather partners, market, soil fertility and texture, as well as topography to be able to carry out farming from a point of knowledge," Mills said.

According to Chari Viswarupa, the country manager ETC Mahindra Agro Tractors and Implements, an agro-inputs dealership, embracing mechanised agriculture is the way to ensure sustainable output.

"For the country to have sustainable food supply, it needs to emphasise extensive mechanised farming. The good thing is that there is ready market for food in the country."

Viswarupa urged the government to promote public-private partnerships in the industry, arguing that this will enable farmers acquire credit and skills required to carry out modern farming.

Analysts blame poor output on low agro-investment by donors and African governments in the past 20 years.

According to the 2013 Global Hunger Index report, Rwanda is ranked among the top 10 countries that have had the most improved index in the past 23 years, reducing its score by over 50 per cent.

Government had expected a food surplus of about 558,000 tonnes this season.

However, during the second quarter of 2013, maize production declined by 3 per cent, from 166,649 tonnes in the second season of 2012 to 161,935 tonnes last season. Wheat output dropped by 18 per cent from 68,026 tonnes in 2012 to 55,744 tonnes in the same period this year, while Irish potatoes declined from 836,110 tonnes to 808,639 tonnes last season, reflecting a 3 per cent drop. Sweet potatoes output reduced marginally by 2 per cent from 593,517 tonnes in to 581,132 tonnes during the same period.

Fruit and vegetable output declined by 10 per cent and 1 per cent, respectively.

The drop saw prices of most fruits, including mangoes increase by 50 per cent during this quarter.

This year, government earmarked about Rfw28.4b to increase access to clean water and improve land husbandry to boost productivity. Agriculture budget increased from Rwf67.1b in the 2011/12 fiscal year to Rwf78.3b this year.

Close to Rwf67b was allocated to the agriculture ministry and Rwf9.4b to the Rwanda Agricultural Board, the optimal centre for food production

According to the Maputo Declaration of 2003, African leaders committed themselves to allocate 10 per cent of their national budgets to the agricultural sector to ensure food security.

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