Rwandans will have to brave the tough times ahead, after indicators showed that the country is likely to face food insecurity for the better part of this year due to impact of Covid-19 pandemic and climate change on agriculture.
Farmers across the country suffered effects of delayed rains for season A, yet when they came, the rains were adverse destroying crops for instance in the Eastern province and other parts of the country.
In many parts of the country, the rains also stopped early, with the dry season starting as early as late November and the whole of December, scotching staple foods like maize and beans as well as other crops, which greatly affected production.
“What happened this year was unusual, the rains stopped early, I watched helplessly as my maize and beans got scorched by the sun, I know many others who also went home with nothing this season” said Francois Niyibizi, a farmer in Bugesera District.
The Covid-19 pandemic also affected agricultural production at many levels last year, for instance the yearlong containment measures affected household incomes, forcing many people to consume the seeds they would have planted.
While the increase in prices of seeds, fertilisers as well as small-scale irrigation schemes, forced farmers to do away with these technologies, which greatly affected the yields.
“From the look of things the country will be food insecure this year. Farmers incurred big losses in food growing areas like Kirehe, Bugesera among others, due to insufficient rains last year,” said Jean Paul Munyakazi from Imbaraga, a non-governmental umbrella body for all farmers in Rwanda.
He said although in some parts of the country farming went well, where seeds reached farmers on time and some farmers even planted good local and hybrid seeds of maize, wheat and other crops, the season did not end on a good note.
“We saw many new people invest in agriculture last year, it was unprecedented, but unfortunately it didn’t end well for many, as many incurred losses due to a wide range of factors, which could even discourage some from continuing with farming,” he said.
The country also experienced a shortage of a wide range of seeds, including those for staple foods like Irish potatoes, maize and beans.
After Irish potato farmers in some parts of the country suffered losses in 2019 due to a sharp fall in prices and a general distortion of the value chain, many shifted to growing onions as an alternative to cushion their income.
This led to flooding of onions in the market last year, leading to a sharp fall in prices, and exposing many growers in Musanze, Bugesera and other places to huge losses.
One kilogramme of onions fell from Rwf1000 to Rwf 200 or even less, with many who attempted to dry and store them ended up even incurring bigger losses as the unfavourable weather led to rotting of the , further confirming the fragility of local crop value chains.
In an interview with Rwanda Today, Charles Buchagu, the deputy director general of Rwanda Agricultural Board, said they are still carrying out an assessment of how production for season A is likely to turn out before they can make a conclusion of whether the country will be food insecure this year.
“Some parts of the country experienced severe shortage of rain and these are on our watch, but other parts like northwest and the Northern corridor got good rains and we expect good yields,” when asked which crops are likely to be more affected in terms of quantities, he said
“We don’t expect shortage of beans, but maize is much sensitive to rain, given that the legumes are planted on hillsides where irrigation is not difficult,” he said. He added that since the country expected insufficient rains in season A going by the data provided by the meteorological department, farmers compensated by planting more vegetables, tubers, sweet potatoes and other foods which are expected to offset the shortages of stables like maize.
Every time the country experienced a shortage of staples like maize and beans, people used to import these foods from Uganda, but this option is no longer possible because of political feud between the two countries led to border closures.