Full commitments to mainstreaming breeding for mineral and vitamin traits into conventional food crop development programs by the CGIAR Consortium and its members

March 31 2014, Kigali, Rwanda: An essential role of agriculture and food systems is to provide the minerals, vitamins and other compounds that are essential for good health. As one way to contribute to this objective of agriculture, the CGIAR Consortium and its members agree to develop a plan for mainstreaming breeding for mineral and vitamin traits into conventional food crop development programs.

The following are relevant considerations underpinning these discussions:

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“Our time is now to end malnutrition and hunger,” agriculture stakeholders commit themselves

More than 300 high-level stakeholders from government, business and civil society today on March 31st, 2014 gathered at Serena Hotel, Kigali, for a three-day consultation on ‘Getting Nutritious Foods to People.’

Senior officials posing with the Prime Minister Pierre Damien Habumuremyi after the opening of the conference

Senior officials posing with the Prime Minister Pierre Damien Habumuremyi after the opening of the conference

During the conference, organized by Harvest Plus and hosted by the Government of Rwanda, the Prime Minister Pierre Damien Habumuremyi called on participants to scale up their efforts in ensuring nutritious foods to their people and end malnutrition.

“Our time is now to scale up what we know works to end malnutrition and hunger because we have resources, tools and evidence at our disposal,” the Premier pointed out. “We owe it to our people to act in smart and swift manners. We owe it to the mothers of our future generation to enable them to meet the best choices of their future. We owe it to the hungry and malnourished to end a reality that is entirely preventable. Our time is now and we must simply do it.”

The Premier made the statements while opening officially the second Global Conference on Biofortification that brought together policy makers, private sector operators, farmer organizations, research centers, members of academia and NGOs from all corners of the globe.

“My sincere hope over the next three days is to have a robust and candid discussion around what is needed to integrate biofortified nutrient rich crops into efforts to fight hunger and malnutrition and how we can accelerate their impacts,” noted the Prime Minister of Rwanda.

PM Habumuremyi noted that Rwandans see biofortified nutrient rich crops as one part of the country’s comprehensive agricultural efforts that complement other interventions.

More from PM Habumuremyi during his opening remarks

The Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI), Dr Agnes Kalibata, said Rwanda has been intensifying efforts in increasing nutritious foods crops to Rwandans. These include iron beans that are widely grown in Rwanda. More than 700,000 households representing one third of the population grow the iron beans.

High yield iron beans is helping tackle anaemia in Rwanda, it has been noted during the conference.

More details from Minister Dr Kalibata on significance of Biofortification

Howarth Bouis, the Director of HarvestPlus, explained that they decided to bring the Biofortification conference to Rwanda because the country has managed to spread iron beans more widely than any other country.

More details from Bouis on biofortification

Nearly one in three people globally suffers from a lack of essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, zinc and iron in the diet. This condition – known as hidden hunger – increases the risk of stunting, anemia, blindness, infectious diseases, and even death. Women and children are especially vulnerable.

During the conference, participants will hold discussions on the best approaches to avail nutritious foods to people. They will also have field trips to get firsthand information on Rwanda’s experience.

Bumper produce? Then let’s focus on agro-processing

Harvesting activities were generally concluded in February and now farmers are in post-harvest handling and storage process. But even before harvesting starts, farmers had already started appealing to the government to help them get ready market for maize bumper harvest they were expecting in February.

Maize production

Maize bumper produce

For instance, Rwanda’s daily publication, The New Times, sometime back reported that Rwamagana district was projecting to harvest about 60,000 tonnes of maize from 40,000 tonnes they had recorded in the previous season; the increase that local officials attributed to the land use consolidation program and subsidized inputs under the government’s Farmers Support Program.

“We planted maize on 20,000 hectares, and expect to harvest 60,000 tonnes. Farmers will consume 20,000 tonnes and sell 40,000 tonnes. The total sales will earn farmers over Rwf4 billion,” the district mayor was quoted saying at the time, while the district agriculture officer was quoted saying that the improved harvest was as a result of modern farming methods that have lately been adopted by the farmers.

To start with, I first of all must say that the bumper maize produce is good news to hear because this is tangible evidence proving that something is being done to increase productivity. By simple calculations, in Rwamagana district alone, production increased by more than 33% last season. It’s a good trend because in the past, you would hear farmers decrying meager produce instead.

On the other side, media reports indicated that price fluctuations were the main cause for farmers to worry about the bumper maize produce. This is a result of the market forces for sure: when there is a huge supply, price goes down and when the demand is high, price increases. And that’s normal on market.

At this stage, what is important to me is that we should not be limited there and let the produce sold at a low price while we’ve invested a lot along the production process. This is where the private sector should come in and take the opportunity.

Value addition

Now the solution should be to focus on adding value to whatever we produce. This should be done through agro processing – and some farmers that I met in the past convinced me that Rwandan farmers can make it.

Processing plants act as incentives for farmers to produce more as value added to their products enhances their chances of finding markets as well as increasing their profits. Some farmers are increasing their profit margin between 30% and 40% thanks to agro processing.
For maize case, for instance, agroprocessing can allow farmers to diversify products ranging from milling grain for maize bread to animal feed products that can, in turn, help improve animal production resources. This is a real complete cycle of agricultural value chain we intend to achieve.

How to reach there?

One of the things that the government has been striving to achieve is to encourage Rwandans doing similar things, farmers inclusive, to form cooperatives not only to facilitate their capacity building, but also to give them a strong voice when it comes to negotiating any particular deal.

In our case, farmer cooperatives can be the right entities that can take the agroprocessing to the next level. Through cooperatives, members cannot only be provided with necessary skills easily where applicable, but can also raise funds/access finance easily to run their processing activities.

On the other side, vocational and technical education that is being promoted in Rwanda can generate a great solution. This means that students can be made aware of the opportunity and start thinking about innovative ideas and come up with some designs of machines that can help in shaping our agroprocessing industry. Thus the young graduates can become easily entrepreneurs, generate jobs while contributing to the development of our agro-processing industry.

Obviously agro-processing will not only help farmers get more from their produce but will also empower farmers to take full control of the market by only releasing what the market can absorb and retaining the excess for other profitable uses while generating jobs for youth.


Yes, women can make it, and IMPABARUTA has shown the way

If you drove – or walked – for about 30 kilometers from Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, to the south of the country, up to a neighborhood called Gacurabwenge and asked for African champion farmers, chances are that everyone there will correctly direct you to a women-dominated cooperative – then you’ve already come to IMPABARUTA cooperative of smallholder farmers in Kamonyi district in the county’s Southern Province; the cooperative that has been, in the end of last November, named the 2013 African Farmer Organization of the Year, beating over 60 contestants from all over Africa.

Members of IMPABARUTA’s board in front of their crop of maize.

Members of IMPABARUTA’s board in front of their crop of maize.

In fact, IMPABARUTA is a cooperative of maize and bean seed growers that seeks to increase production through the combined efforts of their members – and they have really made a record.

The cooperative, the winner of the overall award from the African Investment Climate Research (AFRICRES) and Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), was recognized for its good governance, market access strategy of having farmers pool their produce to sell as a group, and for involving women and youth in its activities: two thirds of Impabaruta — 678 — members are women.

Secrets behind the success

The cooperative chairperson, Manasseh Mpagazehe who is also a role-model farmer, reveals that women and youth are behind their tremendous success. And this is no by chance – it’s obviously a result of the government effort to promote gender equality which led Rwanda’s Ministry of Agriculture to put in place Gender Equality Strategy in a bid to bring about such successes we are talking about right now.

Currently, each of cooperative members is responsible for growing maize on their own individual plots of land. They then dry the husks in traditional drying facilities and transport the product to the cooperative where it is categorized by quality, husked, bagged and stored.

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Agriculture can be a goldmine for the youth

Unemployment among the youth remains one of the biggest hurdles faced by developing countries.

Lack of formal education comes on top among the reasons most youth remain unemployed though this trend is gradually reversing, the figures on school enrolment continue to increase in many countries, Rwanda inclusive.

Patrick Mugiraneza

Patrick Mugiraneza

However, youth unemployment is also attributed to the fact that a large section of the population in developing countries are youth, where, for instance in Rwanda, figures show that the youth constitute 39% of the total population.

Presently, the major challenge faced by this segment of the population is to find a decent and productive employment.

In Rwanda, agriculture is one of the four largest sectors that contribute to the national GDP (up to 33%) and the sector has the potential to employ these young people, and yet the engagement and contribution of  the youth in agriculture value-chain remains terribly insignificant.

The population of this country is set to increase in the coming years and, inevitably, food production will have to increase to sustain this growing population, implying that agriculture will have to play a vital role in ensuring food security, reducing hunger and poverty and at the same time be sustainable.

One thing is for sure, the land will not increase, which means, we need to make do with what we have, only more measures need to be devised to produce more on the limited  land that we have, and this should be seen as a business opportunity for the youth, because this area remains generally untapped. Continue reading

What do women, youth mean for Rwanda’s agric sector?

Women make up 51.8% of Rwandan population, according to the 2012 General Population and Housing Census. Reports also indicate that 14–35 year olds make up 39% of the total population of Rwanda of all ages. This clearly shows that women and youth are indispensable labor for Rwanda; especially for agriculture sector — the biggest employer of the country.

Youth weeding a garden of carrots (Internet photo)

Youth weeding a garden of carrots (Internet photo)

Indeed, the reality is that the agriculture sector is worked mainly by women with lowest levels of schooling and highest rates of illiteracy.

As a result, women remain in the subsistence agriculture, they receive low prices for their products due to lack of market intelligence, they lack capacities to participate in agri-business and are employed in lowly paid positions in secondary agriculture. All these are likely to result in a cycle of poverty that can transcend generations.

In addition, 30% of the country’s households are female-headed and most of them are poor. The increasing number of female headed households in the rural areas makes agriculture vulnerable to any type of shock events because women rarely have asset stocks nor financial savings because of their foundation of being illiterate, poor and stereotyped to be subordinate to male counterparts be it at household and community levels.

In spite of this, women contribute immensely to the agriculture value chain by providing labor for planting, weeding, harvesting and processing in addition to reproductive activities and community work. They also produce and sell vegetables from home gardens or forest products and the income obtained is mainly used on meeting family food, health and education needs.

And for youth, reports indicate that many young Rwandan people are unpaid family farm workers as their main job, at 38% in total. The next most common categories for main jobs are waged non-farm work (21%), independent farmers (17%), waged farm (11%), and independent non-farm (10%).

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No more worries for access to agric finance

Are you intending to venture into agriculture sector and lack necessary funds to materialize your plans? Don’t worry. Investment facility is waiting for you to make your dreams a reality.

Maize plantation under irrigation scheme in Nyagatare: RIF provides financing support for different agric activities including irrigation facilities

Maize plantation under irrigation scheme in Nyagatare: RIF provides financing support for different agric activities including irrigation facilities

It’s true that access to agriculture finance has been a great challenge for many Rwandan farmers; given that most of these farmers can’t raise enough funds in their families to finance their farming activities. Yet the sector remains the sole source of earning life and increase income for majority Rwandans, not to mention that it’s the backbone of the country’s economy.

It’s obvious that farmers with less access to credit plant fewer high yielding crop varieties. In many developing countries including Rwanda, and particularly in rural areas, access to financial services, including credit and formal saving mechanisms, is limited — another factor that leaves farmers with no means to finance their activities.

Then, you can wonder what would be the future an agrarian country within such a situation in case there would not be a mechanism to overcome these challenges. This pushed me to talk to officials in charge to know specific facilities in place that can help Rwandan farmers to overcome such challenges. According to the officials, one of the facilities includes Rural Investment Facility (RIF 2).

RIF 2 is the Second Rural Investment Facility. It is a grant program worth 10 million USD that is under the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI) and is administered by the BRD Business Development Fund (BDF).

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Increasing livestock production through artificial insemination (part III)

In the two previous pieces, we saw the importance and benefits of artificial insemination in improving our livestock. Now in this last part, we are going to see how you can know the right time to inseminate, how to make effective heat detection, and other basic practical information for breeders.

The cow in heat stands immobile when mounted by a bull or another cow, but the other cow may or may not be in heat

The cow in heat stands immobile when mounted by a bull or another cow, but the other cow may or may not be in heat

First of all, a farmer must observe the animals and detect heat at least three times in a day (morning, afternoon and evening) at times other than feeding and milking. He must take at least 20 minutes for each time to observe cows. Some of the signs of heat are:

  • Pre-heat signs: restlessness, separates from herd, ear movements, attempts to mount others, clear mucus, reduced milk production, bellowing
  • Standing heat: stands still when mounted; other signs include clear and copious mucus, vulva enlarged, rests head on back of other cows, tail head roughened (the last sign could also be seen post-heat)
  • Post-heat (2-3 days after start of heat): moves away when mounted, tired and lying while others graze, clear or bloody mucus on tail or legs.

Ideally, if a cow is first seen in heat in the morning, she should be inseminated in the afternoon of the same day and if she is first seen in heat in the afternoon or evening, she should be inseminated the next morning. Continue reading

Increasing livestock production through artificial insemination (part II)

In the latest piece, we discussed on the importance of artificial insemination as a way of improving livestock production; thus increasing cattle production at family level. This time we are going to see benefits of the AI in fighting against venereal transmitted diseases and the interest of AI for Rwandan livestock.

The AI minimizes risks of spreading sexually transmitted diseases. Bulls can be asymptomatic carriers of venereal diseases and spread them to females during the natural mating.  The bulls must be regularly tested for those diseases and the positively-tested will be eliminates to the process of semen collection. One of those diseases is Brucellosis, caused by different species of bacteria, Brucella sp. It is a dangerous disease which attacks animals and human: it is a zoonosis. Diseases due to mycobacteria (Contagious Bovine Pleuropneumonia) can be spread by sexual contact, and so avoided by semen collection and AI. Other diseases are due to parasites (Trichomoniasis) or to viruses (Bovine viral diarrhea, Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis, Rinderpest,…). The semen collection process must allow for the screening of disease agents. The collected semen is also routinely checked for quality, to avoid problems associated with male infertility.

  •  The interest of Artificial Insemination for Rwandan livestock

The following image shows how milk production increase depending on the percentage and the kind of the exotic breed:

Milk production at first lactation for different breeds

Milk production at first lactation for different breeds

In fact, the Ankole (local breed) is neither good for meat nor for milk. It has a small size, and the milk production is very low. For local cows, the AI with the semen from exotic bulls helps to improve the genetic of the local breed towards an oriented production. The meat breeds (Sahiwal, Limousin…) are used to improve the size of the animal and the production of meat. The most used are the dairy breeds (Jersey, Friesian …) to improve milk production. At the first lactation, milk production can pass from 339 liters for Ankole breed to 1418 liters for the crosses Ankole * Friesian.

More details on the topic to come very soon…

Increasing livestock production through artificial insemination (part I)

In simple words, FAO defines Family Farming as a means of organizing agricultural, forestry, fisheries, pastoral and aquaculture production which is managed and operated by a family and predominantly reliant on family labour.  But what does it mean for Rwanda’s livestock ?

A technician performing artificial insemination

A technician performing artificial insemination

This year has been dedicated to Family Farming while Rwanda has already a document dated April 2013 detailing the country’s “National Dairy Strategy.” it’s true that the dairy subsector is important to the economic development of Rwanda, and dairy offers a pathway out of poverty for large numbers of households keeping livestock and for those who provide services and value addition throughout the supply chain. As of last year, “farm gate” value of milk was approximately Rwf 79.7 billion (US$129.70 million).

The dairy subsector contributes 15% to agricultural gross domestic product (AGDP) and 6% to gross domestic product (GDP). Dairy’s contribution to GDP is likely underestimated when considering ancillary products that can be attributed to dairy, e.g. hides, meat, traction/carting and manure. Continue reading