Restrictions in movement during the Covid-19 pandemic have adversely affected seed multiplication and distribution across the country. This threatens to result in low agricultural yields in the coming season.
Although farming was not suspended during the lockdown, the impact of Covid-19 on the food system is real. The pandemic and the measures to respond to it have paralysed food production cycle not just in Rwanda but across the world.
One of the most affected food supply chains, and perhaps the crop whose low yields will have a far-reaching negative bearing on lives of many people and the economy at large is Irish potatoes.
The Irish potato is a priority crop in the country, both as an important food crop and as a cash crop.
The pandemic brought many systems that support production cycle to a standstill, from seed dealers being unable to access credit from banks, transporters being unable to move, to farmers not planting nursery beds on time.
When Covid-19 broke out, and many hand-to-mouth sections of workers lost their jobs due to the restrictions, significant pressure was put on household food reserves, to a point where farmers consumed even the seeds stored for planting.
After households exhausted their food reserves, they were at the mercy of government for food rations, which it duly implemented especially for the most vulnerable households.
However, although the restrictions have been largely lifted and life seems to have returned to normal, the government needs to be cognisant of the long-term effects and the dent left in the agricultural sector and the food production ecosystem.
Farmers must not be left vulnerable; they are the key to our food security as a nation.
Even before Covid-19, the country's food production systems have been under stress, with Rwanda’s rural areas facing development challenges including growing migration to cities by would-be farmers and slow transformation from subsistence to mechanization.
The government plans to spend Rwf122.4 billion to increase agricultural productivity in 2020/2021, and prioritization has rightly been placed on improving agriculture inputs using inorganic fertilisers and improved seeds.
An emphasis must also be placed on reducing post-harvest losses, especially for essential crops like beans, maize, rice and Irish potatoes by taking modern dry shelters and storage facilities closer to farmers.
The existing agricultural subsidies meant to ease access of key technologies like water pumps, seeds and fertilisers are still beyond reach for many farmers, as they consider even the 50 per cent contribution to still be high for them, hence the low adoption.
The baseline of any economy is food security. When a country gets it wrong on food; it not only becomes more vulnerable to external shocks from pandemics and others of that nature.