Greenhouse farming answer to land scarcity

In a country like Rwanda with little arable land and high population density, greenhouse farming is a very attractive option, since it allows complete control of the environment. Yet the investment required scares many farmers away.

Greenhouses can significantly the number of harvests per year. (photo Eric Didier Karinganire)

Greenhouses can significantly the number of harvests per year. (photo Eric Didier Karinganire)

At college Ami des Enfants in Kinyinya sector, Gasabo district, stand three giant shelters of transparent plastic that covers it from roof to the bottom. Each shelter is 8 meters wide and 40 meters long.

Inside you see very long lines of tomato plants measuring about 5 meters and small pathways between lines. There are also small water pipes used to irrigate the plants with water from a tank nearby. Each shelter has a small window just near the roof as well as a door, both made of transparent plastic materials.

They are shelters used for greenhouse farming, a type of farming that the ministry of agriculture is currently promoting in Rwanda as a strategy to improve crop yields in a country short of agricultural farm land. Plants are raised and cultivated on a very small space un­der a fully controlled environment – rather than outdoor where one cannot control all kinds of environmental hazards.

Although this kind of farm­ing scares many people because of the cost, it has very many ad­vantages in addition to the high yields, says Charles Muhayima­na, the director of College Ami des Enfants.

“It ensures high yields, it’s un­believable,” says Muhayimana. “For business-oriented people, this in itself can be a very lucra­tive business.”

Muhayimana says his school has been running the green­house business since last year in December. In the space of eight months, the school has harvest­ed over 24 tons of tomatoes from the three greenhouses. The yield would have been much more had it not been for the poor qual­ity of some of the plastic covers, which affected some crops.

With Anna F1’s tomato breed in the greenhouses, the school’s leader estimates the yields are 8 times higher compared to what they could have got if they had practiced open-field farming, because the greenhouses enable them to regulate the environ­ment. And the quality is very high too. “They are very big and can stay for two weeks without rotting,” says Muhayimana.

Tax breaks

Victor Dusabimana, an agron­omist who has also been using greenhouses to grow tomatoes not far from the College, ex­plains that the plastic covers protect crops from too much heat or cold, shield plants from dust storms, and help to keep out pests. Light and temperature control allows greenhouses to turn useless land into arable one, thereby improving food produc­tion in environments that are not well suited for agriculture. And the transparency of the covers has a significant role too. “It ensures plenty of sunlight to photosynthesize,” Dusabimana explains.

Apart from tomatoes, green­houses can also be used to grow flowers, all kinds of vegetables, fruits and pulses, among others.

Despite the many advantages greenhouse farming offers, this type of farming is not yet very common in the country, even though there is a shortage of land. According to available sta­tistics, more than 60% of house­holds cultivate less than 0.7 ha. This makes greenhouse farming a very suitable option for Rwan­da.

At the ministry of agriculture, they recognize the potential of this kind of farming in the country. Ernest Ruzindaza, the permanent secretary, says mea­sures are being put in place to encourage private investors into this kind of farming. It is in this regard that some programs like Rural Investment Facility (RIF2) have been set up to offer finan­cial support to organizations and entrepreneurs to make produc­tive investments in agriculture, he explains.

“RIF2 offers to cover part of an investment in projects all along the agricultural chain,” Ruzin­daza says.

Other measures taken by Minagri focus specifically on greenhouse farming. Earlier this year, Agriculture Minister Ag­nes Kalibata met with interested parties to see how they can be supported.

“It needs lots of commitment from the farmer. What we do is facilitate interested people in the private sector by giving them tax breaks on greenhouse materials, because it’s not cheap” Kalibata said. “We are also working on strengthening our capacity to deal with extension for green­house farmers.”



Agricultural value chain to be strengthened

Given that over the last three years many farmers have significantly increased their production and exceeded subsistence needs, major investments in both capital and human resources are required to handle the increasing surpluses.

Ernest Ruzindaza, the permanent secretary at Minagri, and IFAD vice-president Yukiko Omura. (photo Eric Didier Karinganire)

Ernest Ruzindaza, the permanent secretary at Minagri, and IFAD vice-president Yukiko Omura. (photo Eric Didier Karinganire)

Therefore, supporting harmonized programs in rural microfinance and cooperative development is important to successfully making ag­riculture market-oriented. That is one of the main recommendations of the Country Program Evaluation (CPE) on the cooperation between the government of Rwanda and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) during the last 10 years.

IFAD, a United Nations agency based in Rome, was established to work with poor rural people to enable them to grow and sell more food, increase their incomes and generally improve their lives.

According to the CPE, the partnership between the government of Rwanda and IFAD has made a significant contribution to reducing poverty. On IFAD’s part, contributing factors include a more participatory approach and transition to direct supervision, while on the part of the government of Rwanda, they comprise the introduction of clearly defined strategies and programs as well as a strong accountability framework.

“Rwanda has performed very well thanks to conducive policies,” said Yukiko Omura, the vice-president of IFAD.

However, the CPE points out that despite strong growth both in the general economy and in agriculture, poverty persists in the country. This dichotomy is mainly caused by inadequate rural financing systems, which means there is a lack in adequate infrastructure such as warehouses, pro­cessing facilities and marketing mechanisms that are required to make agriculture economically viable, according to the officials.

Ernest Ruzindaza, the permanent secretary at Minagri, observed that an important part of the solution lies in significantly increasing private sector investment in rural areas by setting up infrastructure to develop the agricultural value chain. “We have to really involve the private sec­tor,” Ruzindaza said, “therefore dialogue with all concerned sectors is ongoing to tackle the issue.”

Yet to encourage private entrepreneurs to go to rural areas, the pres­ence of financial institutions there should also be increased. According to Raphael Rurangwa, the director of planning in Minagri, that is ex­actly the reason behind the government’s push to strengthen the Sav­ings and Credit Cooperatives (SACCOs) all around the country. “Since banks are not everywhere, SACCOs play a major role in reaching out to people and making financial ser­vices accessible,” he explained.

The PRICE is right

IFAD, for its part, is to contribute by developing a harmonized sup­port framework. In this regard, the organization recently signed a loan and a grant worth US$ 39.8 million with the government to help improve the livelihoods of poor smallholder farmers and in­crease economic growth in part­nership with private operators.

The loan and grant agreements consist of  the Project for Rural Income through Exports (PRICE) and the Support Project for the Strategic Plan for the Transforma­tion of Agriculture (PAPSTA in its French acronym).

“With its focus on enabling smallholder farmers and vulnerable groups to participate in value chains for coffee, tea, silk and horticulture, PRICE is a flagship project in terms of public-private partnership,” said IFAD vice-president Omura.

PRICE aims to promote sustain­able increased returns to small­holder farmers from the coffee, tea, silk and horticulture value chains by helping them increase the quantity and improve the quality of production. The project will support 170 farmers’ coopera­tives nationwide, and will push for a high share of the export price to reach the smallholder produc­ers. More than 125,000 vulnerable households, particularly those headed by women and young people, will benefit from PRICE, Omura noted.

The current funding for PAP­STA, which works in the six dis­tricts (Bugesera, Kirehe, Gakenke, Ngororero, Nyamagabe and Nyan­za), is designed to help continuing the rehabilitation of an additional 150 hectares of marshland for rice production. The project will also increase its activities in the areas of agricultural strategy formulation, soil and water conservation and marketing support structures.

However, given the high popula­tion density and small average land­holdings, combined with the rapid population growth makes, it is also necessary to identify off-farming ac­tivities generating employment and income for the rural population. This is supported by IFAD through the Rural Small and Micro Enter­prise Promotion Project (PPPMER in its French acronym).

Since the cooperation began in 1981, IFAD has funded 14 programs and projects in Rwanda for a total investment of US$ 189.8 million benefiting 500,000 households.