Farmers want the government to prevail upon financial institutions to reschedule their loan repayments after two dry seasons took a toll on their harvest.
Those hardest hit are from the Eastern Province districts of Kayonza and Bugesera. Eastern Province is more prone to drought than other parts of the country — and parts of the region were left out of multimillion irrigation projects by the government and donors.
“We have two unpaid loans that we procured for buying agro-inputs but the poor harvest and bank penalties are making it hard to pay them back,” said Martin Habumuremyi, who heads KOAIGR, a co-operative for maize and vegetable farmers in Bugesera District.
Some farmers opted for cheaper seeds, “since they could not afford loans to buy good quality seeds,” said Esperance Uwimana, a member of the Duterimbere Murundi co-operative for rice growers in Kayonza District.
He acquired seeds under the Nkunagire scheme, which covered 50 per cent of the costs.
This is the predicament facing most farmers: They procured seeds and agro-inputs with 50 per cent of the cost covered by government subsidies or on loan with repayment expected in full after the harvest season.
Farmers categorised in the poorest social class get agriculture inputs for free from the government.
The Gashora Sacco Microfinance co-operative now says lending farmer cooperatives is a huge risk because they do not service their loans when they incur poor harvest.
Microfinance institutions charge 6.8 per cent interest per season on the money they lend farming co-operatives.
But district officials blame the backlog of loan repayments on management challenges among some co-operatives, adding that farmers in regions most affected by the drought have been offered seeds despite their unsettled debts.
Some six out of 15 sectors in Bugesera District have received maize under the government seeds relief scheme.
Local government officials in Kayonza District said that the One Acre Fund, known as Tubura that is managing the Nkunganire scheme has expanded its core programme under which farmers get agro-inputs on loan and pay back after harvesting, while Bugesera farmers are getting the seeds free of charge.
“Due to the poor harvest caused by changing climate patterns, we have provided farmers with seeds amounting to 109 tonnes in six sectors free of charge,” said Jean Damascene Sinjyenibo, the director of Agriculture and Natural Resources in Bugesera district.
The Rwanda Agriculture Board has asked farmers to review their payment plans with financial institutions given that yields for the coming season are expected to improve thanks to early planting and substantial rainfall “As we are assured of a good season, we advise farmers to approach their financial institutions to renegotiate the payment structure.
Banks know how hard their clients suffered,” said Charles Bucagu, the deputy director-general of agriculture research and technology transfer at RAB.