Adverse weather across EA region hits farmers hard

Wednesday February 12 2020

farmer

Large scale plantations in Jenda Sector-Nyabihu District in the west of Rwanda choking in flood water following weeks of heavy rainfall in the region, leaving hectares of food crops destroyed. PICTURE | FILE 

JOHNSON KANAMUGIRE
By JOHNSON KANAMUGIRE
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The current weather shocks including flooding are increasing the risk of many farmers losing a source of income.

Recent heavy rains have left several crops destroyed and livestock dead.

Worse still, some farming infrastructure including drainage systems and irrigation has been destroyed.

Many farmers who obtained microcredit are concerned that they have started experiencing difficulty repaying the loans.

Districts like Kirehe in the east, which were the worst hit by both recurring floods in 2018 and prolonged drought thereafter left authorities seeking Rwf2.5 billion from the national budget to repair damaged infrastructure, according to a recent assessment by the district.

According to reports on effects of the disaster by the Ministry of Emergency Management for the past two years, farm activities in six other districts that rank among country’s major food baskets were adversely affected.

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“There are very few interventions supporting us like repair of damaged irrigation canals and other farming infrastructure because the focus has always been on provision of housing and food assistance to the affected families.

Only Rwanda Agriculture Board has been helping by providing farm inputs,” Janvier Nsengimana, the Kirehe District Director of Agriculture and Animal Resources told Rwanda Today.

According to Mr Nsengimana, ongoing rains have made repairs difficult and costly.

The situation is particularly difficult for farmers who obtained micro credit for agricultural inputs and since they are now unable to repay the loans.

A 2018/2019 nationwide disaster situation report by the Ministry of Emergency Management shows the disaster affected more than 8,424 hectares of cropland and 212 livestock last year, compared with 13,337 hectares and 815 livestock in 2018.

The rains that have fallen since the end of December have so far killed more than 29 people and left over 200 hectares of cropland submerged, according to the latest updates.

Meagre land holdings

The Ministry of Agriculture has not commented on the likely impact on the sector's output, and/or plans to foot the bill for repairing the damaged farming infrastructure.

However, players are worried that adverse weather events could spell doom for over 68 per cent population employed in the sector, of whom majority already earn too little to farm themselves out of poverty as per the assessment of the past agriculture transformation strategy now in the fourth phase.

The assessment indicated that in addition to crop diseases and the effects of climate change, labour in the sector was weighed down by marginal size of land holding, limited funding, market availability and access, as well as skills improvement.

Some of the worst affected farmers now lay hopes in the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's planned partnership with the governments in Rwanda, Somalia, Kenya and Djibouti to provide emergency support to farmers where farming infrastructure has been destroyed.

Drought and famine

According to the FAO, the extent to which disasters have descended upon the region, including the locust invasion, could impact negatively on these economies and that they will most likely require governments and development partners to provide food aid.

“This is because these things seem to be getting intense and frequent following climate change and farmers are bearing the brunt of the suffering. Droughts and floods have been with us from time immemorial but they are getting more severe, leaving the people struggling for their livelihoods,” said Martin Ager of the FAO subregional office for eastern Africa.

Already adverse weather could partly be blamed for the decline in export earnings on items like meat, milk, hides and skins and maize flour whose volume and revenues fell significantly between 2017 and 2019.

Meat export earnings for instance reduced from $24.7 million to $18.9 million on reduced volumes while milk exports revenue fell from $20.6 million to $6.07 million.

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