The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Modern Agric Pulls Burera Farmers Out of Poverty, Food Insecurity

The government has been promoting agriculture as one of the main ways to improve household incomes and eradicate poverty, but most people have not heeded this call.

However, this is not the case for some residents in Burera District in the Northern Province who have kicked poverty and food insecurity from their homes, thanks to modern agriculture.

Prior to 2008, most residents in the district never had enough food because of poor farming methods, as well as reliance on traditional food crops, Joseph Zaraduhaye, the Burera District vice-mayor in charge of economic affairs, says. This also meant that they were food insecure and lacked sustainable sources of income, he adds.

Zaraduhaye also notes that the district did not have access to markets, forcing the farmers to sell the grain at giveaway prices.

He says the situation became worse when some people started migrating to other areas, thinking that the land in Burera was not fertile enough to sustain farming.

"Most families always lacked enough to eat because they used poor farming methods. Those who managed to get sizeable harvests, sold it at low prices," he says.

Zaraduhaye, however, notes that all this changed in 2008 when the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) engaged residents to embrace modern farming methods and carry out large-scale maize farming.

Residents acquired better agricultural skills from the project's extension staff which greatly boosted maize output and nutrition among children.

The project has generally improved agricultural output in the district, Zaraduhaye pointed out during a visit of Ihute Udasigara Co-operative activities in Rusabuye sector.

He says the FAO project changed people's mindset, leaving a positive impact in the area, which he adds the district will ensure is sustained to promote farming as a business in the area.

The vice-mayor notes that presently the school dropout rate in the district has reduced greatly since people have a sustainable income source. He says today about 90 per cent of all school age children are in school.

The FAO project supports six farming activities in Rwanda, including maize, Irish potato, passion fruit, pineapple and cassava, as well as dairy farming to fight food insecurity and boost household income.

Attaher Maiga, the FAO country representative, says the initiative has been successful in alleviating poverty in the area, besides promoting financial sustainability.

"People had lost hope due to poverty and hunger. Farmers never used fertilisers and were majorly depending on rudimentary farming methods so we had to train them in sustainable and modern farming practices. We also helped them form five co-operatives," he points out.

Maiga notes that they trained farmers in better farming practices so that they can be self-reliant even after the project closes.

"I was helped by the project to secure a loan which I used to start an agricultural inputs store in Burera town... I earn over Rwf500,000 per season from sales," says Vincent Nyaruzungu, who also carries out farming activities in Rusarabuye sector.

Maize boom:

Residents organised under Ihute Udasigara and Duhurizehamwe co-operatives are some of the farmers reaping big from farming activities. They say they have gained a lot since joining the co-operatives five years back, noting that it has been a life changing experience that has seen their standards of living and profits improve sharply.

"Since we started using improved seeds, our maize harvests have increased from about 100kg of maize grain per hectare to four tonnes," Jean Providence Bigirimana, a farmer and the president of Ihute Udasigara Co-operative, explains.

He adds that the members can now afford to hire extra hands to work on their farms, as well as pay medical insurances, power bills and school fees for their children with ease.

"We no longer farm for food only. Our target is produce enough for the family and still remain with something to sell to raise money to sustain our households," Bigirimana says.

He notes that all members of the co-operative must save part of the earnings with local savings and credit schemes. The farmers say they used to consume grain corns known as Impungure, but can now afford better foodstuffs.

Esther Namuhawe, another farmer says, she has been able to rehabilitate her house using proceeds from grain maize sales.

"Our family can now afford two good meals per day; previously we could only eat one miserable meal for sustenance," she says.

She adds that they sell the grain at Rwf235 per kilogramme.

Anaclet Nyirimana of Duhurizehamwe Co-operative, says he has bought a commercial building in Butaro which he rents out to foodstuff and agro-input dealers.

Despite maize being a major source of food for many residents in the Burera, there was no grain mill; forcing many to move long distances for the service. But that was before Sabine Sinzamuhara established a maize mill in Butaro town.

Sinzamuhara says he got the idea of setting up a maize mill after realising that many co-operatives were producing maize, but there was no miller.

"The community needed a maize mill since the only place they got the service was in Musanze town," she says, adding that she works with co-operatives to ensure she has enough supplies all the time to satisfy the increasing demand.

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