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Fields of maize
Fields of maize
Fulgence Niyonagize and Venant Nshimyumurwa

MUSANZE - The agricultural reform launched in 2007 has boosted the country's agricultural output. Yet not all farmers are benefiting from the situation. Some struggle to sell their crops while others suffer from an unbalanced diet. They have become so desperate that they have decided to ignore governmental directives.

A group of north Rwandan farmers have announced that they are going to stop growing wheat after they weren’t able to sell their last crop at the expected price ($0.8 per kilo): "We brought the crops to the cooperative. A week later, they asked us to take back our crops, which they hadn’t been able to sell," they complain.

Desperate, they have now decided to ignore government directives: "Once we have sold our wheat, at whatever price necessary, we will start to grow more profitable crops."

Since the Rwandan government launched its new agricultural policy in 2007, some crops have become too abundant and no longer sell. The new policy has given more power to regional authorities, which are encouraging farmers to grow only one kind of crop on a very large scale. According to the government, the goal is to "boost agricultural output and help farmers go from subsistence farming to commercial agriculture."

Boosting production

The government has focused on "boosting and developing sustainable means of production." This new policy accounts for 80% of the agriculture budget, which itself represents 6% of Rwanda’s total budget. It promotes the draining of swamps and wetlands, the development of new irrigation systems, motorization as well as new sustainable practices in regards to natural resources and soil conservation. It is a huge overhaul of the farming industry.

The program also aims at improving food security through the increase in food production. The remaining 20% of the budget is devoted to training programs for farmers and affiliates as well as developing horticulture and agri-business.

To reach such ambitious goals, each province must grow a certain kind of crop, which has been determined by the Ministry of Agriculture in regards to the specificities of the region's soil and climate. Farmers must form cooperatives in which they cultivate together and are able to obtain subsidized seeds (sold for half the price).

"We have almost managed to triple the production of corn, wheat and manioc over the past three years. This has led to a 14% annual increase of the national agricultural output. We no longer face scarcity," praises Agnés Kability, Rwanda's Minister of Agriculture.

Unbalanced diets

Yet some of these crops, such as corn and wheat, end up rotting in the cooperatives' attics, unsold, creating much discontent among farmers.

"Choosing one crop over another is not enough. We should be told why the government makes such decisions," says a farmer from Kinigi, in the Musanze District. He still does not understand why sorghum was taken off the government's list. It had proved to be a very profitable crop for years and protected families against malnutrition. Nowadays, sorghum is rare and expensive.

This sorghum shortage has had unexpected consequences – in some bars, beer has been turned into a weird and dangerous mixture. Since the reforms, Umurahanyoni, an adulterated beer made from sorghum, chemical fertilizer and strong alcohol has replaced banana beer. Less sorghum means more fertilizer and alcohol. “It gets people as drunk as hell around here," says Ujeneza Aloys from Gitare in the North Burera District.

A more serious consequence is the growing issue of unbalanced diets in some parts of the country. "In every household in this area, people only eat potatoes. Before, they all used to grow vegetables and beans. But now, they have to walk long distances to buy them," says one resident from the Musanze district. And these vegetables and beans are expensive. "We have noticed a price hike for imported products that are no longer grown in the area," notes Jean Pierre Mpakaniye from the Imbaraga trade union, a federation of farmers and cattle breeders in Rwanda.

Corn, which is now grown in the swamps and is a hugely successful crop, has driven the prices of other vegetables way up, since they have become scarce in the region. Merchants come here to buy the few remaining vegetables to sell them in Kigali's large markets and supermarkets.

While this green revolution has succeeded in boosting Rwanda's agricultural output, it has also had a terrible effect on the revenues and the diets of the farmers and their families. They now seem to all want the same thing: since they can’t grow their own food, they would like to be able to sell them at the price they want, which would enable them to cover their labor expenses.

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