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[KIGALI] The Rwandan government plans to boost agricultural production through its Crop Intensification Programme (CIP) and a range of post-harvest measures to reduce waste from the 2011 season onwards.
The programme will boost agricultural research to increase productivity in rural areas and ensure food security for the country’s 10 million people.
"We plan to reduce the cost of production by intensification, and emphasise mechanisation, enhance research for the introduction of high-yielding varieties of staple crops, as well as embarking on research for appropriate post-harvest technologies," the country’s prime minister, Bernard Makuza, told the Rwandan Senate last month.
The CIP, initiated in 2007 to address falling productivity and the low use and availability of fertilisers, had doubled crop production, Makuza said. It had "helped the country move from being food insecure to food secure", he told the Senate.
In the new plan through this existing programme, researchers will develop improved seeds to boost the productivity of smallholder farmers and investigate other agricultural practices such as post-harvest technologies.
"We are trying to set up post-harvest infrastructure and facilities which will enable us to reduce post-harvest losses from the current 30 per cent to 5 per cent," Makuza said, adding that the Ministry of Agriculture has set up a special Post-Harvest and Storage Task Force.
Daphrose Gahakwa, director-general of the Rwanda Agricultural Research Institute (ISAR), said that farmers in remote rural areas have so far relied on "fertilisers and seeds imported and distributed by the government at a lower price as a way to boost their productivity". She added that the new approach will focus on using improved seeds.
A recent study by the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources revealed that in 2009 and 2010 the government imported 22,400 tonnes of a fertiliser known as NPK (containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium), which was sold at low prices to support rural farmers, especially those growing exported cash crops.
But the country’s agriculture minister, Agnes Kalibata, said that fertilisers were imported only for export crops such as tea and coffee.
And an ISAR study found that the work of agricultural researchers has not been taken sufficiently into account in finding other solutions to improving productivity.
"The introduction of improved crop technologies, such as climbing bean varieties, could serve as an alternative to the use of fertilisers," Gahakwa said. "It is also important to train small-scale farmers who rely on traditional farming practices on how they can adopt these new practices," she told SciDev.Net.
At a conference in Kigali in December, Kalibata also called for more innovative irrigation technologies to boost productivity — the plans are to irrigate 100,000 hectares of arable land by 2013, she said.
No budget has been specified for the new plans, but the government has emphasised that it will collaborate with research partner institutions, such as Canada’s International Development Research Centre.