Rwanda: Agriculture stakeholders appeal for incentives to organic farmers

January 19, 2022
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Researchers have called for incentives to support organic farmers and also help link them to buyers inside and outside the country.

The call is based on a study which established that the use of chemical fertilizers alone without organic fertilizers or using chemical fertilizers in improper ways is causing soil degradation and could trigger a decrease in agricultural productivity in the coming years if nothing is done.

Conservation researcher Elias Bizuru who is also a lecturer at University of Rwanda told Doing Business that, “There is need for more efforts to get more organic fertilizers available and accessible to farmers,” explaining that increasing the organic fertilizers ensures soil fertility improvement.

At least 40 per cent of 2, 635 farmers who participated in the study whose findings were recently released confirmed that chemical fertilizers application alone contributes to soil degradation.

It was carried out in the districts include Gisagara, Rubavu, Gicumbi, Nyamasheke, Musanze, Bugesera, Nyaruguru and Huye.

The investigations have found that there is the lowest use of organic fertilizers in these districts compared to the use of chemical fertilizers.

Over 60 per cent of households reported using a lot of chemical fertilizers and only 20 percent using organic fertilizers in Musanze district.

About 60 per cent in Nyaruguru confirmed using chemical fertilizers and only 15 percent using organic fertilizers.

The study found that 50 per cent were using chemical fertilizers and 15 per cent were using organic fertilizers in Nyamasheke while about 50 per cent were using chemical fertilizers and only about five per cent using organic fertilizers in Rubavu District.

Very few households in Gisagara, Kirehe,Gicumbi and Bugesera were using chemical fertilizers but still  the use of organic fertilizers was lower compared to chemical fertilizers, it found.

“100 percent of households apply the same amount of fertilizer regardless of the soil nutrients content of the different zones. As a consequence of this, some areas receive unnecessary amounts of chemical fertilizers,” Bizuru said.

The key environmental concern associated with inorganic fertilizer use, he explained, is pollution from soil erosion run-off into surface water.

Estimates based on spatial analysis showed that between 47 per cent and 37 per cent of the country’s arable land experiences soil erosion with much of it ending up as deposition in rivers according to a previous study by UNEP.

Landslides and soil erosion are estimated to cause the loss of soil ranging between 250 and 490 tonnes on a hectare per year reducing agricultural productivity.

“Promoting both chemical fertilizers and organic fertilizers is the way to go. Otherwise, agricultural productivity could decrease in the next five or ten years,” Bizuru pointed out.

The researcher recommends integrating the use of organic fertilizers and mapping potential sources or raw materials for organic fertilizers adding that factories producing organic fertilizers should also be established in the country with the role of private sector.

“We recommend establishing and operationalizing a national policy and schemes in favour of agro-ecology in general and organic farming in particular,” he said.

Verdiane Nyiramana the Chairperson of Nile Basin Discourse  Forum in Rwanda  and the Region, a network of civil society organizations in protecting Nile River Basin- said that soil degradation with soil containing chemical fertilizers ending up into water bodies including Nile River could lead to loss of biodiversity species such as fish and other animal species

With scientific evidence on the effects of chemical fertilizers, she urged the government to build on the findings for a policy brief and take action.

Chantal Dusabe, the Head of Rwanda Organic Agricultural Movement (ROAM) added: “Organic farming is environmentally friendly and safe for human health. Besides these benefits, there is a high demand on the export market for organic products and attract good prices,” she said.

She said the organization is relying on using a participatory guarantee system to promote organic farming in Rwanda to ensure affordable cost considering that certification cost for organic products is still high as certifying experts or bodies are still imported.

Participatory Guarantee System is a locally focused quality assurance system which certifies producers based on active participation of stakeholders and is built on a foundation of trust, social networks and knowledge exchange.

“We are now relying on this system currently and we also need local certifying bodies to help cut the cost,” she noted.

Commenting on the study and recommendations, Jean Chrysostone Ngabitsinze, the Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources said that chemical fertilizers uptake is still low in Rwanda compared to other countries adding that using both manure and chemical fertilizers will continuously be promoted to ensure soil fertility improvement.

“Products from organic farming such as vegetables and fruits, tea and coffee among others have a potential market especially outside Rwanda,” he said.

Need shift to feed 22 million people in the next 30 years

The researcher showed that in general, the land remains small at 0.5 hectare per household.

“Given the scarcity of Land per household, it is evident that a shift or reform of the agricultural sector is more than critical. Investment in technology to produce more on small land and leave a bearable environmental footprint is very critical,” he said.

According to the land use and development master plan running from 2020 to 2050, the Government of Rwanda targets to increase by 15 times the agricultural production by 2050 to meet the food demand of around 22.1 million Rwandans.

“If chemical fertilizers are used alone without organic fertilizers it could lead to soil degradation and decrease agricultural productivity that is needed to feed the growing population,” Bizuru explained.

Based on a model developed in the land use master plan, if business continues as usual with the same way of production and the same crops yield, Rwanda will need a land estimated at 103.000 Km2 to feed the 22.1 million of population.

However, if the current yield is increased by 15 times by 2050, the land size required will just be 14.500 km2.

The Master plan recommends protecting 15 000 km2 of arable land to meet food security needs by 2050.