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Bringing land plots together to increase agricultural productivity

©IFAD/Elisa Finocchiaro

Woman works in rice paddy in Eastern Rwanda.

Intensifiying agricultural production is one of the key objectives of the Rwandan government to reduce poverty and guarantee food security. The Crop Intensification Programme (CIP) was introduced in 2007 at the national level to increase agricultural productivity and reduce import of staple agricultural products such as rice.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is supporting the Rwandan government's efforts through the Kirehe Community-based Watershed Management Project (KWAMP) , implemented in the Kirehe District in the south-east of the country.
"We work around key objectives such as consolidation of land use and introduction of quality inputs," said Janvier Gasasira, the Project Coordinator at the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI).

The majority of smallholder farmers in the District have plots of no more than 0.5 hectares (ha) which are scattered around their community's area. Part of the CIP programme is to bring plots together to be able to grow crops in a more intensified way on a larger area to increase productivity. "The farmers remain the owner of their plot but we want to regroup the crops on larger areas," explained Alexis Musabyimana, the CIP coordinator at the District of Kirehe. "At the start, we had to work a lot on sensitizing the farmers as they felt they had to let go of their land. We had to convince them of the benefit of consolidating the land while still owning it."

As a result of the land consolidation programme, yields have substantially improved without expanding the total area under cultivation. For instance the total production of maize, wheat and cassava tripled from 2007 to 2011, the production of beans doubled, and that of rice and Irish potato increased by 30%.

A  tight network of support services

In terms of technical and organizational support, the District provides the services of qualified extension officers who live in close proximity to the farmers. "We are extremely decentralised when it comes to extension services, so the farmers can get constant support," explained Alexis. Farmers also get advice on the commercialisation of agricultural produce through cooperatives or farmers groups. "It was difficult to convince farmers to produce to sell, they had always practised subsistence agriculture so they couldn't think of selling their products," said Alexis. "We had to work hard to change the mindset." As a result of such efforts, Rwanda has seen a shift toward more commercial agriculture, with marketed output increasing in all provinces from 22% in 2005/6 to 27% in 2010/11.

Extension service officers provide support throughout the crop season from the preparation of land to the post-harvest storage and sales. "Land preparation is extremely important in our region, if there is a two-week delay, farmers loose the whole of their production," he added. In Kirehe, there is one extension officer per sector so 12 in total.

Quality inputs are also an important part of the success of the CIP. To this end, the district is promoting the use of inputs such as fertilizers and quality seeds which are subsidised at 100% the first year and 50% thereafter. "We have introduced DAB and Urea as fertilizers as well as quality maize seeds which were given for free at the start," said Alexis. The use of improved seeds for maize has gone up by 61.8%, for wheat by 46.3% and for Irish potato by 16.3%. Equally, the national average for fertilizer use has almost doubled from 8.5 kg per ha in 2006 to around 16 kg per ha in 2010.

The inputs are distributed by the Rwanda Agricultural Board who is also in charge of buying some of the production. For a farmer owning a 0.5ha plot, the cost of the fertilizer amounts to 26,000 francs for 75kg of input. Farmers can benefit from a credit line from their local cooperative or SACCO to be repaid after the harvest.

Extended farming area

In the Kirehe District alone, a total of 26,000 ha are now used for maize production, 10,500 ha for beans, 3,000 ha for soyabean and 900ha for rice. Farmers rotate the crops to preserve the soil fertility and not deplete the land. "We select the crops at the beginning of the season but maize remains the largest one," said Alexis. The paddy rice area will also substantially increase after the irrigation schemes built under the KWAMP project will become operational. In Rwanda, the country known as the land of a thousand hills, rice as well as maize are grown on large flat areas down in the valley while the other crops are terraced on the hill side (maize can grow on both). Fruit trees such as bananas, and pineapple are also dominant crops in the region. "We are rehabilitating 1,900 ha of banana plantation and will add another 100 ha of new plantation," said Alexis.

Although the system of input supply and extension services support is well in place, work still needs to be done at the post-harvest stage when farmers sell their crop. "Currently, it is recognized to be one of the greatest sources of inefficiency in agricultural production," explained Francisco Pichon, IFAD's Country Programme Manager. Farmers are not yet benefiting from warehouse storage services and receipt system. Some large warehouses have been built but the post-harvest collection system needs to be organised. Current losses for key commodities amount to about 30% of harvested products, but these losses are likely to increase given the country's reliance on rainfed agriculture and its vulnerability to climate change. "We need to work on the post-harvest system to make sure farmers don't sell too low. We need to work on the storage aspect as well," Alexis concluded. To address the problem, IFAD has designed the Post-Harvest and Agribusiness Support Project (PASP) soon to be implemented and which include a US$ 7 million investment for climate change adaptation.