Farmers have expressed concerns over the government’s decision to surrender seed multiplication and distribution to the private sector, warning it is a recipe for food security.
The government has been buying seeds from farmers, multiplying then distributing them across the country through Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), but from September, this task will be in the hands of the private sector.
“Beginning September, local seed producers will sell directly to dealers, creating business opportunities for many Farmers up in arms against new seed distribution plan From next month, farmers will be at the mercy of private sector people involved in this sector,” said Charles Bucagu, deputy director general of RAB.
However, farmers nationwide lobby group Imbaraga has dismissed this development as a recipe for food insecurity, insisting the private sector is not ready to handle the sensitive seed distribution across the country.
“There is a need for a proper assessment to see if there is enough capacity. Businesses will only look at profit yet the government was playing a larger, more supportive role,” said Munyakazi Jean Paul, legal representative for Imbaraga.
He said much as this move may have been taken to alleviate weaknesses such as limited investments and inability to distribute seeds across the country on time, the sector has not yet reached a point when government should step out as businesses in the sector are not well organised.
“This move will make seeds more scarce and expensive for farmers. I am currently in Nyamagabe and it is hard to obtain Irish potato seeds” he said.
The country is currently experiencing a shortage of a wide range of seeds, including seeds for staple foods like Irish potatoes, maize and beans.
Many farmers across the country did not save seeds for planting, as many households consumed even what is normally preserved for seeds, while others sold them to consumers, as people faced food shortages due to complications that came with Covid19 restrictions.
Seed shortages have been blamed on lack of investment in seed research, and the fact that many cooperatives are not serving one of the cardinal purposes of their establishment, which is seed production and preservation.
A kilo of Irish potato seeds would go for between Rwf370 and Rwf500 but are now going for between Rwf700 and Rwf800, a price many farmers find prohibitive and out of reach.
Other seeds that are currently in short supply include carrot seeds, soy beans, peas, groundnuts, onions and French beans.
“Farming problems are like a cough, they can’t be hidden. Co-operatives have failed in their role of producing seeds. Many lack stability and things are likely to even get worse,” said Munyakazi.
Begumisa Franklin, an agricultural expert, who is also a private agro-dealer, warned that the private sector players in agriculture are still nascent, cash-strained and disorganised to handle seed distribution.
“The government has been playing the critical role of augmenting food security through seed distribution. The seeds may not be distributed equitably by the private sector; others might not even distribute the right seeds,” he said.
Begusima gave an example of fertiliser distribution system a few years when government left it to some private sector players. “The irregularities that happened in distribution of fertilisers are likely to happen in seeds, where some came up with fake fertilisers and ended up in prison, while others sold them expensively” he observed.
In this move government is also seeking to see more capital flowing into the seeds multiplication and distribution sector, to even increase uptake of local improved seeds to cushion farmers against high costs of imported seeds, while creating business opportunities for dealers.