With the increasing population of about 12million people in Rwanda and since nearly 90 percent of the population relies on subsistence agriculture and farmers are dependent on rain for good harvests, food security has become a major concern for the government of Rwanda, thus the agricultural sector has been given a high priority in the government’s planning for development.
It is within this framework that Rwanda joined the rest of the world to commit itself to reduce the malnourished population as stipulated by the commitments made during the World Food Summit held in Rome in 1996.
One of the areas affected with drought was Bugesera District in the Eastern province of Rwanda, the land was so dry that it could barely produced any crops, this lead the community to be poverty stricken and this called for intervention from the government of Rwanda and the USAID to help the community secure food.
Besides famine, the area frequently reported some of the country’s most extreme poverty. However, after some well calculated interventions, the district is gradually moving towards food sufficiency
In 2009, the African Development Bank committed $47m (estimated Rwf 27billion) in order to improve falling agricultural output and lengthy droughts which affected almost a million people living in the Bugesera (Rwanda) and Kirundo (Burundi).
The intervention was focused on helping the community stop deforestation, erosion and silting of lakes, combined with irregular and insufficient rainfall, which greatly contributed, in hunger stricken Bugesera.
This has in the last five years changed. The area is considered to be the most fertile and productive in Rwanda.
This is not the case, because the former drought-stricken Bugesera has now become ‘Rwanda‘s bread basket’
One of the victims of the former Bugesera famine is Danicilla Mukakarangwa, a single mother of three children.
Like many hundreds of residents abandoned their homes in Bugesera district (about 40min drive east of Kigali) and crossed over to neighbouring Burundi – fleeing years of famine, hunger and poverty.
Others moved to urban centres around the country. Over the following years, the area became infamous after regular reports of people relocating in search of food.
The food security situation in Bugesera became so dire that the UN World Food Program set up a nutritional centre in 2004 to feed parents and their children numbering more than 40,000.
The WFP feeding centre – located in the worst affected Rilima Sector provided food supplements to malnourished residents.
After eight years of going through the traumatic experience, MuKakarangwa returned to Bugesera, and is now living a happy life with plenty of food stored in her granary and enough to have a meal with his children twice a day – most of which she sends to local markets – even Kigali for sell.
The mayor of Bugesera, Louis Rwagaju says that deforestation was one of the major causes of the drought in the area in the past.
However, to avert the situation, the authorities sought an agroecological approach that would be both regionally adapted and culturally specific.
Thus, as one of the measures, the authorities started a reforestation programme in 2005, to reverse the trend.
“We didn’t take care of our natural resources. People destroyed the environment by cutting down trees and there was no mechanism in place to replace them.
Since the government took measures to fight against deforestation in 2005, the area began to receive regular rainfall and today, farmers are making regular harvests,” Rwagaju says.
Despite frequent rains since the implementation of reforestation programme, several streams and rivers traverse the district.
To tap into this great natural resource, the authorities also started an irrigation scheme to improve productivity. About 120 hectares of land in the two sectors of Rilima and Gashora, are under irrigation.
Rwagaju affirms that they considered the two sectors as they were the most hard-hit by the 2003 drought.
With the intervention of local government, farmers have been significantly facilitated to access fertilisers and better seeds besides offering advice on best farming practices.
“I have managed to transform my farming activities, with the advice of local authorities on how to use fertilisers for better production. We have been receiving selected seeds and organic fertilisers where we pay 50 percent while the other half is offset by the local authorities” says Leonard Mbarushimana, one of the farmers.
Another solution to ensure food security in the area was the construction of silos to store produce, through the support of a food security support project known by its French-acronym PASAB (Projet d’Appui à la Sécurité Alimentaire au Bugesera)- this programme, run by the Catholic Church NGO Caritas, has played a vital role in shielding area residents from famine.
Farmers formed cooperative unions to make use of a government-constructed silo to store their produce. Once they delivered their produce, they received an official document that they would use to secure bank loans.
The food storage programme was first initiated in the Eastern Province. It was mandatory for every citizen in the province to stock a little produce in silos from their harvest.
The grain storage programme has considerably helped in fighting against hunger and reports indicate that agricultural yields tripled within a short time as villagers set up the cereal bank to store grain.
Today, the Rilima centre is no longer providing food for the hungry, instead it advises mothers and pregnant mothers on how to balance the diets of their children and more than 400 tonnes of crops are stocked in all sectors.
At least every cell has its own grain storage facility in addition to 16 big silos that the PASAB project put up in every sector.
This is because the district has applied modern agricultural interventions and maximising community leadership and participation, which have transformed it from what was previously known as ‘the poorest places in Rwanda‘ to one that has become a model for development.
Increasing production can come at the expense of further limiting the available land for agriculture, especially in light of the aggressive efforts to intensify agriculture.
Improved methods of environment management will be required to ensure that agricultural practice is sustainable.
Due to increased growth in food crops in most of the province, the government has invested in production of finished agricultural products, for example, in the southern province- a new cassava processing plant, funded by Rwanda Development Bank (BRD)has been constructed in Ruhango district.
The plant, worth Rwf5billion, has a capacity to process 250 tonnes of raw cassava and produce 60 tonnes of cassava flour on a daily basis. The factory is expected to boost economic activity.
According to Jack Kayonga, the BRD Managing Director, the state-of the-art facility will benefit both the residents and the country’s economy
“The factory will increase the residents’ incomes and provide market for the local cassava farmers,” Kayonga said “This is a step towards development and will enable Rwanda to compete in the regional market and reduce dependence on imported cassava products”
Agricultural farmers cooperative have been formed in country, replacing the associations of farmers.
These have contributed to the increase in food production at a large due to adapting new methods of land consolidation and growing a single crop with combined efforts of all cooperative members.
The achievements agricultural sector for the have been attained due the prioritization of food crops and increased production of vegetables and fruits have improved the nation’s food security.
Farmers say that this was due to the extensive use of fertilizers and quality seeds which mature faster and are more resistant to bad weather conditions.
“The farmers also attribute the successful agricultural production to the improved mechanisms of farming. The government has donated tractors to community to improve the farming methods, use of green houses and planting seed beds which are also monitored by community agronomists” says Ezekiel Niyigena, the chairman of CSC Ugama – an association of farmers in Muhanga district, southern province.