In Rwanda, farmers are “going against official policy”

Sugar beet harvest in Rubavu district, western Rwanda, 2018.

Contemplating the gleaming plantations of Josephine Mukankusi’s farm is like taking a look at agricultural problems rwanda, There, on the edge of the village of Karurambi, in the north-west of the country, the retired teacher makes use of every square meter of her acres, which are laid out on terraces on the slopes of the Karisimbi volcano. Cabbage, eggplant, beans, spinach, onions, beets, cassava, cereals, herbs, vegetables, shrubs… It is difficult to list this abundant diversity that nevertheless falls within a precise framework: that of ecological and sustainable agriculture. A highly populated country under development, with overexploited soils that do not ensure food security of the population.

Rwanda actually has a record it cannot do without. With 13.3 million inhabitants concentrated in an area smaller than Belgium, it has the highest population density on the continent: 483 inhabitants per km.2, whereas in Africa the average is 23. However, the terrain is often steep in the country known as “a thousand hills”. Urbanization is reaching rural areas of this 70% rural country. Exploited plots are small, fragmented by strong demographic growth, even as fertility rates are falling (3.8 children per woman in 2021, compared to 6 in 2000).

Nearly two out of three Rwandans are farmers, yet the primary sector accounted for only a quarter of national wealth creation in 2022. “People are no longer dying of hunger, but the quality of their food is not good, one third of children are malnourished and suffer from stunted growth, especially in rural areas”Vedaste Mwenende is responsible for monitoring the project within the Association for Cooperation and Research for Development (ACCORD).

Josephine Mukankusi and thirty families who are members of the same local agricultural union are doing better than most farmers in the surrounding area. Certainly, the land in this region, a major potato producer in the country, is fertile. But his success comes from somewhere else, “going against official policy”, Vedaste Mwenende explains.

planned intervention

In the agricultural sector, this policy has been elaborated since 2007 in the Crop Intensification Program (CIP, in its English acronym), which prioritizes six crops: maize, wheat, cassava, beans, potatoes and rice. “The farmers who defied this agricultural plan by diversifying their gardens were uprooted”, recalls Vedaste Mwenende. Because under the rule of Paul Kagame, who has been in power since 1994, planned discipline is the rule. Once decisions are taken, their implementation is often unstoppable.

“But if the program is not achieving its objectives and “Bigg Boss” becomes aware of it, that doesn’t stop him from asking questions and making adjustments.”, explains a Rwandan consultant. Gradually, officials are relaxing the application of CIP, which is not suitable for microplots, which degrades the soil and makes people dependent on chemical fertilizers.

With the agreement, since 2018, Josephine Mukankusi has taken a completely different path. Agronomists of the association teach them the techniques of diverse and nature-friendly agriculture. This agreement provides basic building materials to start the activity. Today, Josephine Mukankusi’s pride is measured by the enthusiasm she displays for going around the owner. There, behind the house, is a stable where a pregnant cow grazes. Its urine that flows into the reservoir will enrich the plant manure. Manure will also be used as fertilizer, milk as daily food.

She also knows all the secrets of technology “push pull” This involves introducing a repellent plant – in this case plantain – against certain destructive insects. Desmodium In between the beans. Along with grains, Vernonia Fulfill its invisible function as a “mineral attic”, fertilizing and protecting the soil. Castor beans also act as insecticide. Far away, under a shady avocado tree, Josephine and Accord are experimenting with a new method of making earthworm compost.

All this – and everything else – the former teacher dutifully records in a large square notebook. “I note everything, professional distortion”, she laughed. Profits and losses, all expenses, including daily wages of day laborers (1,500 Rwandan francs, or about 1 euro per day), all plantations and their produce.

The teacher, a mother of six girls and one boy aged between 13 and 30, decided to take early retirement in 2018, assured of improving her income by taking up this activity, although it is limited to half a hectare. “I don’t regret it, She says. All my children are studying and I will be able to buy another cow. , Apart from the self-consumption portion, which significantly improves its nutritional quality, the remaining produce is sold in markets, providing an important source of wealth.

passion for returns

A few kilometers further, on this steep hill, Frédouard Muniemenzi and his family of eight made the same choice as Joséphine. There, in the small village of Ravinzovu, the soil is rocky. Life is harsh, residents are silent, there is a history that is hard to bear.

Rwanda’s north-west – and this district of Musanze in particular – was the stronghold of the clan of Juvenal Habyarimana, president from 1973 to 1994, and his wife Agathe, the two principal architects of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. In July that year, following the victory of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF of the current president, Paul Kagame), the region became the scene of a “war of infiltrators” led by ex-Hutu genocide refugees. in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Until their defeat in the early 2000s, these extremists continued to spread terror and target the Tutsi, albeit on a smaller scale.

Thus, a few dozen meters away from Munyemanzi Farm, a field lies fallow, the shutters of the houses closed. “The mayor lived there, went away”, explains the patriarch, without further details. It’s been a long time since Juvenal Kazelijeli ” Left “, The former mayor of Mukingo was sentenced to life imprisonment for genocide and rape by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in 2003, with the sentence later reduced to forty-five years in prison. was accused “Dedicated to his nefarious cause.”In the words of an ICTR judge, he prefigured the genocide by participating in the massacre of approximately 1,500 Bagogwe (Tutsi herders of north-west Rwanda) in 1991.

Frédouard Munyemanzi likes to talk about his bio-pesticide mill. He shows his seeds, his market garden beds, his nursery and his pigs. “I have three hectares. In Rwanda, this makes me Pasha”, He laughs. He also tends his 300 avocado trees. “That’s my retirement.”He said.

“The organic market is emerging in Rwanda with the emergence of a middle class, but it remains relatively unknown to farmers. However, the added value is higher than that of traditional agriculture supported by the government.Vedaste Mwenende explains. But officials are becoming interested in our approach, especially because we have seen an increase in non-communicable diseases possibly linked to the intensive use of fertilizers. ,

But the passion for returns remains intact. At the end of December, Moroccans from the sector’s global giant, Office Chérifien des Phosphates (OCP), inaugurated an ultra-modern fertilizer production plant in a joint venture with Rwandan public partners near Kigali. This investment of $20 million (18.6 million euros) aims to increase the yield of agricultural soils by 40%. Also, the state is also planning to distribute hybrid and GMO seeds to agricultural groups on a large scale.

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