Two years after Jean Damascene Manirakiza ventured into the cultivation of mulberry (Morus alba, locally known as Ibobere) in Nganzo Valley in Rwabicuma sector, Southern Province, he feels he made a wrong decision.
“We gave up on the other crops and started venturing into the mulberry farming and till now no single penny of benefit from the business, yet the trees have grown,” said Manirakiza
Manirakiza is among dozens of farmers who are now ditching the crop for other ventures bemoaning lack of training and limited skills in rearing the silkworms to produce cocoons or silk yarn.
Of the 63 farmers in 20-hectare Nganzo wetland in Rwabicuma sector who ventured into the mulberry farming , only 23 are still keeping faith with the business.
When they joined the project, the farmers were assured by growing the plant, which a silkworm eats to produce the silk fibre, they would boost sericulture in the country.
A representative of the farmers bemoaned lack of training “Our skills are limited to cultivating, seedling and weeding; nothing on breeding silkworms,” said Anastase Bikorimana, one of the farmers’ representatives in the Rwabicuma sector.
He adds that after they were done with planting, they were told they had to build rearing houses or "sell the leaves to those who had built the houses and rearing the silkworms."
Now blame is flying around with Christine Niyonizera, a resident of Rwabicuma sector in Nyanza district, pointing a finger at government officials who told them that the benefits of mulberry trees outweigh those of their usual crops.
“We switched to the mulberry trees because we were told that we are going to be rich,” said Niyonizera.
However, local government officials put the blame on the farmers themselves.
“Those from the Ngando wetland resorted to complaints because they are many on the small land,” said Erasme Ntazinda, the district mayor, adding that training is offered by the National Agriculture Export Board (NAEB).
Meanwhile, NAEB says the government has embarked on upgrading the silkworm stock through germplasm enrichment with robust and high yielding races adaptable to Rwandan conditions in order to attract investors.
Through the recently secured investment deal with the Korean silk manufacturer HEworks Rwanda Silk Ltd, the silk value chain has gained momentum with an increase of the farm gate price upped to nearly Rwf3,900 ($4) from Rwf1,900 ($2) per kilogramme in October 2016.