Well-organised saccos revolutionise Rwanda farming

Sunday September 16 2018

Farmer tending crops in Rugunga Village,Rwanda

Farmer tending crops in Rugunga Village,Rwanda (1)-1 

By LEOPOLD OBI

Undulating hills with lush green vegetation characterise most parts of Rwanda, which is on the brink of an agricultural revolution.

Forests and banana plantations line up most roads in the hilly country. And in the valleys, in between one hill and the other, there are paddy rice, maize, and vegetables.

Seeds of Gold was in Rwanda last week, driving to Rugunga in Kisagara District, some 140km from Kigali, the capital.

In Rugunga, as in other parts of the country, farmers are organised into co-operative societies. The farmers grow maize, beans and vegetables throughout the year on a wetland.

The maize is planted on raised furrows and sweet potatoes are grown around them, on the edges of raised soil beds to prevent erosion.

All this is done through the co-operatives, which are vibrant and well-managed. They use them to access inputs, trainings and market.

Boniface Nayigisiki, who heads Kojyamugi Cooperative, says the system has helped farmers enhance their income by getting ready market, enabling the farmers to use their proceeds to access benefits like health insurance scheme.

“All farms in Rwanda are organised into irrigation schemes. The land belongs to the government but every farmer is allocated a small piece where to grow crops through co-operatives,” Nayigasiki explains.

During planting, farmers get subsidised fertiliser and seeds from the government, which they plant and deliver to the sacco for marketing after harvesting.

Established over 11 years ago, Kojyamugi Cooperative has over 4,000 smallholder farmers who grow maize on 529-hectare stretch of wetland.

The co-operative is further subdivided into smaller groups consisting of 15 members to facilitate easy training. Each group has its own leadership.

“Our members harvest more than 1,200 metric tonnes of maize every season part of which we sell to a baby food processing company called the African Improved Foods while the rest is milled and sold to locals,” the co-operative chairman explained, adding that last year, they sold over 800 tonnes of maize to the food processor. Farmers are paid 260 Rwandan Francs (Sh32) for a kilo of maize, Nayigisiki noted.

“Before the co-operative was formed, everyone was looking for his own market which was hectic as middlemen took advantage of most of us. Through the co-operative, however, we have an organised marketing system and curbed post-harvest losses.”

Rwanda owes its agricultural success to well-organised saccos, which have since rose from about 2,500 in 2010 to more than 8,000, according to the Rwanda Cooperative Agency. The country has also a strong National Agricultural Policy that prioritises technologies that increase yields, reduce post-harvest losses and improve quality, along with climate-smart and nutrition-sensitive approaches.

Over the last decade, more than two-thirds of the country’s population has successfully relied on agriculture for work and food. The transformation now ranks Rwanda among the top five potato producing countries in Africa, producing about 2.24 million tonnes of the commodity every year, compared to Kenya’s 2.19 million tonnes.

The latest Africa Agriculture Status Report (AASR) released last week during the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in Kigali, ranked Rwanda the highest in dedication to agricultural growth, followed by Mali, Morocco and Ethiopia.

The performance of the countries are measured using an Africa-wide framework known as the “Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme” drafted in 2003 to serve as a blueprint on how to accelerate agricultural growth in the continent.

The blueprint recommends an allocation of at least 10 per cent of national budgets for agriculture, and 1 per cent of agricultural income to be spent on agricultural research.

But very few countries have come close to meeting these targets, according to the AAS 2018 report.

The average land holding for a common Rwandese small-scale farmer is estimated at 0.7 acres, while the effective use of that land is 0.3 acres per household. Limited land access has not barred the tiny country, however, from being an agricultural powerhouse.

The writer filed this report for NMG