Covid-19, scarce inputs and the fears of a poor planting season

Monday September 7 2020

farm

The agricultural sector has suffered from logistical glitches that came as a result of the stalemate between Tanzanian and Rwandan truck drivers over Covid-19 testing. Photo ~ Cyril Ndegeya 

LEONCE MUVUNYI
By LEONCE MUVUNYI
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Hiccups in the seed and fertilizer distribution systems and disruptions by the Covid-19 pandemic have players in agriculture worried of a negative impact on preparations for the September planting season A.

What is more, there are even fears of food insecurity come 2021. The scarcity and subsequent high cost of agriculture inputs like seeds, fertilisers and agricultural equipment mean many farmers will not plant crops as usual, while others will grow far less volumes compared with past years.

However, Ministry of Agriculture Permanent Secretary Jean Claude Musabyimana urges calm, saying everything is set for the September planting season A, including appropriate guidelines.

“Everything is going well for season A. We have four importers of agricultural inputs. They all have enough stock for the season, even maize. Where we have a deficit, we have seeds to fill the gap and if anything goes wrong, we still can intervene,” he said.

The agricultural sector is one of the sectors hurt most by the logistical glitches that came as a result of the stalemate between Tanzanian and Rwandan truck drivers over Covid-19 testing.

“The blockades at the borders and other Covid-19 related restrictions have greatly affected timely importation of agricultural inputs like fertilisers, seeds and equipment.

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This has also led to increased prices of these items and because of this many farmers did not venture into buying these inputs for season A,”. said Franklin Begumisa, an agriculturalchain expert and a private agro-dealer.

The pressure exerted on household incomes by Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns for the better part of this year ended up forcing many to consume the seeds that are normally put aside for planting, lessening the quantities for season A.

Through the Tubura programme, the government advances low-income farmer groups and individuals with affordable seeds and fertilizers, to be paid back at a later stage and in instalments upon harvest, but many farmers have ended up selling these inputs cheaply.

“Many are selling the inputs, both seeds and fertilisers, to be able to feed their families. I just bought some,” said an inputs dealer who spoke anonymously.

According to Mr Begumisa, agro-dealers in Rwanda are currently in contractual stalemate with government, which gave them a tender to sell agricultural equipment like irrigation pumps to farmers at a subsidised price.

He said the Covid-19 related complications have led to a significant increase in the cost they incur to buy and transport the equipment, yet they have a contractually tied-in price at which they are supposed to sell the equipment to the farmers.

“The prices at which the equipment are sold to us have significantly increased since the outbreak of Covid-19. When you add the high transport costs, high exchange rate, the price at which we have to sell is way higher than what is in the contract with government," he said.

“Those who are selling, it is at a loss. Other dealers are hoarding the equipment, telling farmers that they are out of stock to avoid selling at a loss. This will affect the farming cycle,” Mr Begumisa added.

But the Agriculture Permanent Secretary Jean Claude Musabyimana says the dealers need not sell at a loss for the law protects them from such an eventuality.

“In our procurement system, the law is very clear about that. If there is an issue that leads to a sudden increase of the prices, as long as it doesn’t go beyond 20 per cent, the two entities can renegotiate,” he said.

In an attempt to side-step or postpone the price issue, the Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB), which is the government entity that contracted the agro dealers, has suspended renewing of their contracts, and asked them to continue operating according to last year's contract.

“All this will go on to significantly affect next year's yields. Some farmers have gone back to using their traditional methods of irrigation, while others are only using manure, which is not enough,” Mr Begumisa noted.

Beginning September, the government will cede the service of seed multiplication and distribution to the private sector, something farmers had concerns with, citing unpreparedness of the private sector to handle such a sensitive sector.

“This was decided to respond to the demand of the private sector, they said government was infringing on their business, according to the discussions we have had with them they seem ready,” said Mr Musabyimana.

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