Members of Parliament (MPs) have expressed concerns over the government proposal to slash spending on agriculture by 35 per cent, saying that the move would affect farm productivity.
In proposal to reduce government spending on agriculture is contained in the draft budget for the 2020/21 fiscal year, which will begin on July 1, 2020
Under the draft budget the government plans to spend Rwf90.4 billion on agriculture, which reflects a 35 per cent reduction from the Rwf140.3 billion that the sector was allocated to in the current 2019/2020 fiscal year .
The MPs said on Wednesday that the move will hurt the entire agriculture and livestock value chain.
The MPs made their concerns known on Wednesday, May 27, during budget hearing session where the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources as well as its affiliated agencies explained the government decision.
The session was held through video conferencing.
Irrigation, post-harvest handling, and management of floods especially in marshlands are some of the activities that continue to be affected by funding shortfalls.
Only about 60,000 hectares or less than 5 percent of all the arable land in Rwanda is irrigated, according to data from the Ministry.
According to MP Theogene Munyangeyo, President of Economic Cluster in the Chamber of Deputies, with other sectors severely hit by Covid-19, agriculture has the potential to accelerate the country's economic recovery by creating jobs and generating incomes for a critical mass of Rwandans.
"After COVID-19 ... we should think about how to go far in terms of agriculture and livestock by focusing on export oriented production," he suggested. "But, the proposed budget does not support that."
He said that the Office of the Prime Minister, and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning should look at ways to make planning and financing mechanisms that adequately advance the sector.
MP Angelique Nyirabazayire said that; "though there are limited resources, more efforts should be invested in agriculture because it is the foundation of economic development for the country and its citizens."
If the marshlands we have in the country are redeveloped, she said, the country can be self-sufficient in terms of food regardless of seasonal changes.
MP Annonciata Mukarugwiza said that there is a gap in redevelopment of marshlands, citing the Rurambi Marshland in Bugesera District.
"If a budget does not address the problem in a sustainable manner, that should be carefully examined because it can result in losses for both the government and the residents who have made investment in marshland utilisation," she said.
Gerardine Mukeshimana, the Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources, said that "in the current budget, about Rwf1 billion is being used to raise and rehabilitate the dyke at Rurambi Marshland in order to prevent spilling Akagera waters from destroying people's farms and crops."
The Minister pointed out that Rwf900 million additional funding will be added to that (in the coming financial year) to help farmers prepare their farms and carry on farming activities.
MP Speciose Ayinkamiye said that there are farmers who had grown crops in wetlands, but they were destroyed by recent heavy rains which made them incur losses.
Minister Mukeshimana said that the government is working on extending access to the agriculture insurance coverage so that more farmers get protected from future losses stemming from crop damage by natural disasters such as floods.
MPs also expressed the need for increasing the national strategic food reserve capacity to help stock sufficient cereals and grains especially for use during scarcity.
Underscoring its importance, they said that the domestic food reserve offered food relief during the pandemic.
From May 26-30, 2020, the Standing Committee on National Budget and Patrimony is holding budget hearings with all budgetary bodies on their Budget Framework Paper for the year 2020/21 and the Medium Term Expenditure Framework 2020/21-2022/23.