African paradox: vast arable land, but net food importer

Despite its vast agricultural potential, Africa as a continent has remained a net importer of agricultural products over the last few decades. Statistics reveal that African countries spend around $35 billion a year on food imports, yet the continent has a lot of uncultivated land.

Trade trends

Trade trends (Source: Science20.com)

For instance, imports account for 60% of the food consumed in Gabon, according to the 2013 WTO Trade Policy Review (TPR) of CEMAC. Yet arable land there is abundant: the Population density (people per sq. km) in that country was measured at 6.19 in 2011, according to the World Bank.

And subsequently, malnutrition, especially lack of essential minerals and vitamins, causes major challenges on the African continent: It is estimated that 12 Africans die every minute as a result of hunger and malnutrition. Africa has the highest prevalence of undernourishment in the world while 65% of arable land in the world is in Africa. And 80% of stunted children in the world live just in 14 countries, including 8 African countries.

Little marketing

In fact, you will find for instance baby foods, cakes and other processed food commodities in African supermarkets imported from Europe and Asia, but you will barely find locally processed food commodities. And the unpleasant story goes on like that for decades.

figureReality is that these African countries are spending billions of dollars on imports far beyond their foreign exchange earnings. Analysts say the increase of food imports is a result of increasing of middle class on the continent. Then my question still is ‘if Africans are gaining more and more purchasing capacity, why don’t they use the resources in developing and diversifying their home-made products instead of looking at fortified products from abroad?’

Truth is that we have been growing traditional crops for centuries, but with no efforts to add value on them. For instance, sweet potato is one of the traditional crops that are widely grown in many African countries (and they have been consumed only spoiled or baked under hot ashes for centuries), but you will, in your neighborhood’s boutiques, come across with cakes or biscuits made from sweet potatoes imported from Asia. Probably this is because our traditional crop is little marketed while it has high potential to provide many solutions of the problems we are facing now.

Should we let things going on that way? No! Then think twice. After all, there is a possibility to change this deteriorating situation. Continue reading

From 30 kgs to 181 kgs per bunch of banana: How banana rehabilitation is making difference for smallholder farmers in Rwanda

It’s around 4:30pm, on the first Saturday of April somewhere in Southern Province of Rwanda. A man, apparently in his 50s, is inspecting a banana plantation, removingsome suckers, just to maintain about 3 to 4 suckers per stool; removing old leaves and cutting off some male buds among other practices.

Manasseh Mpagazehe showing how banana rehabilitation has improved his yields (Photo: Eric Didier Karinganire)

Manasseh Mpagazehe showing how banana rehabilitation has improved his yields (Photo: Eric Didier Karinganire)

Answering to my curious questions, the farmer explains to me that he does de-suckering in order to ensure strong plants and good yields; given that competition between suckers depletes soil fertility very fast and results in weak plants which are very susceptible to infections.

By removing old leaves and sheaths, he tells me that it’s because they are susceptible to infections and can host infections if not removed in time. He maintains the average number of 8 to 10 leaves per banana plant at flowering and 4 at harvest, while he tells me that removing the male buds early also helps reduce the spread of diseases like the banana bacterial wilt, which can be transmitted by bees collecting nectar from the banana male buds.

This is Manasseh Mpagazehe, a renowned role-model smallholder farmer and leader of a women-dominated cooperative that won the continental overall award of the year 2013 organized by African Investment Climate Research (AFRICRES) and Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

Based in Gacurabwenge sector, Kamonyi district of Southern Province, the banana farmer who grows the crop on his own 2-ha land, looks humble and wise with a posture that reflects an image of self-confidence.

The 55-year-old father of four needs no introduction in some parts of the country and in Kamonyi in particular. Some people knew him through Farmer Field School by teaching best practices on banana rehabilitation across the country, while others have come to know him because he is the leader of the award-winning cooperative on the continent.

“I don’t really know if I can get any other activity more lucrative than farming,” he points out.

With more than 7 years having a rehabilitated banana plantation, Mpagazehe knows well what he is talking about. He started with 300 banana plants of Fiat 17 and Fiat 25 varieties seven years ago, but as of now, his banana plantation has been expanded to 2 ha. He is yielding a bunch of banana weighing 181 kgs from 30 kgs back in 2006 when started banana rehabilitation.

I caught up with him for insights about how he got engaged in banana farming and the way he went through up to the success

Blogger: Tell us briefly how you got engaged in banana farming…

Mpagazehe: I used to practice subsistence farming. I could get hardly food stuff from my banana plantation and could some time make a local banana-made beer, urwagwa. That’s what I could get out of my banana plantation. Then back in 2006, officials from then Rwanda Agriculture Development Authority (RADA) [now integrated in Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB)] visited me, requested me to rehabilitate my banana farm and provided me with some training sessions, then I started with 300 FIAT varieties.

Blogger: to what extent have you benefited from the training?

Mpagazehe: I really must say that the training sessions made me whom I am now. I used to do banana farming, but in traditional ways where you plant suckers I wait to get yields without doing anything else. After attending the trainings, I became aware of banana rehabilitation, what is the right sucker for planting, standard spacing between suckers so that they can become healthy, how to use fertilizer and many more best practices. Thanks to these good practices, I started yielding a bunch of banana weighing more than 80 kgs only after 10 months while I was getting a bunch of banana of less than 30 kgs.

I started attending national agriculture exhibition in 2007; just to exhibit my banana and suckers. Then, I became popular and other farmers from all corners of the country started visiting me to learn more about the best practices I was using to get impressive yields.

Since 2010, I became the facilitator at national level working with Framer Field School in banana rehabilitation. When I sell banana once, I can’t earn less than 250,000 Frw while I get around 500,000 Frw when I sell suckers.

Blogger: What are your main challenges?

Mpagazehe: the challenge is lack of enough land where I can expand my activities. The second challenge is violent wind that sometime brings down our banana plants and we stay counting losses; given that we do not have mechanisms to prevent this unpredictable disaster.

In spite of loss caused by the violent wind, which I think would be mitigated though crop insurance scheme, but really Mpagazehe has lessons to teach, and it would be wise for other farmers to pay a visit to him to learn how agriculture can be a business.

Charting the way to ‘The Africa We Want’

My domestic worker is a good sharp-eyed boy. When I returned home from work yesterday, he told me: “Tonton, something special might be going on in our city.” Even before I intervene, the guy went on saying: “I’ve been watching TV since Monday and I realized that there is a big event which attracted a lot of foreigners to the city.”

And the 23-year old guy went away as he was busy with cooking activities.

afrThen, I thought for a while; just wondering to what extent the event was organized to catch the attention of laypeople like my domestic worker! The guy was absolutely right and there was a ‘big event,’ indeed!

The special event was the Annual Meetings of the African Development Bank that took place in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, from the 19th to 23rd May this year, attracting more than 3,500 high profile people from all corners of the continent and beyond. It was very special in a sense that the bank was at the same time celebrating its 50th anniversary of operations.

Unlocking agric potential

The meeting was a kind of platform to talk about different crucial aspects that affect development of the continent such as political stability, infrastructure, access to clean water, education, health, ICTs, to mention a few others. But more interestingly, unlocking agriculture potential for fast economic growth, youth and women participation to make all these aspects a success were at the center of the debate.

For instance, you could hear from speakers something saying that Africa’s agriculture potential is staggering while the region has more than 60 percent of the world’s uncultivable arable land. Others repeating that it’s unacceptable to see that the continent has become a net food importer while some 50 years ago, it was a net exporter of agriculture produce.

Indeed, the challenges facing agriculture are enormous. Of these challenges, one stands out. There is chronic underinvestment in agriculture in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Today, smallholders still depend on rain for irrigation. They use simple tools denying them opportunity to increase production. Those who manage to produce under these difficult conditions have limited access to market. These challenges are thriving because governments invest very little of their budgets in agriculture.

“Agriculture should not been seen just as a development project – it should be seen as a business. Whether you are talking of small scale or medium size – this is very important. African farmers are living in antiquity by the material that they use, inadequacy of infrastructure and poor access to markets. This should not be,” Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria was quoted saying along with other very profile people.

Obasanjo emphasized the need to invest in technology to modernize agriculture in Africa and increasing access to affordable finance for smallholder farmers as critical to increasing productivity. He also noted that though few farmers have access to finance, the cost of it is still excessively high with interest rates ranging between 18 and 20%.

“There is no way farmers can make it at that rate of interest unless they are producing cocaine,” he said, underscoring the need to provide affordable financing to farmers.

And many more went on unanimously arguing that since the majority of Africans depend on agriculture, investing in the sector is critical to reducing inequality and creating jobs.

Watch a part of the debate where Nigerian former president Obasanjo, Nigerian agric minister Adesina, CEO of Americas Standard Bank, Shankar and others give their views on what needs to be done to unlock agric potential

The debate was really quite interesting to follow. But on the other hand, I asked myself whether there was something new from such good debates! Truth is that we’ve had enormous meetings of the kind — even at the level of catching the attention of laypeople, but with insignificant actions. Through the discussions, I could learn that, we, Africans, know very well challenges we face, possible solutions and how to go about it – which is a good trend. But again, where do our problems come from? I would argue that the problems obviously arise when it comes to implementation stage.

Role of leadership

The same argument was echoed by very influential figures on the continent including Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Kenya Vice President William Ruto, African Union Chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, form presidents Olsegun Obasanjo of Nageria and Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania and Sudanese mogul Mo Ibrahim who were speaking during another session. They were all talking about the role of leadership for ‘The Africa We Want.’

Watch a small video where these prominent persons were speaking about the role of leadership for ‘The Africa We Want.’

And much more has been said; just turning around words “The Next 50 Years, The Africa We Want.”

I totally agree with the speakers and I finally remain with an optimistic view in a sense that recent experience from some African countries has proven that political will and fair implementation of policies can make things better.

For instance, reports indicate that strong political will and huge investments in agriculture sector have helped some African countries  to grow their economies and lift thousands of people out of poverty.

I really do believe that we cannot afford to waste the abundant potentials of agriculture while we look elsewhere for the solutions to end poverty and hunger. It’s really high time for everyone’s participation to ensure the declarations get turned into substantial results soon; tremendous results that cannot only catch the attention of laypeople, but also bring about betterment of their lives.

And my concluding statement is simple: if we, Africans, do not act accordingly to get ‘The Africa We Want,’ in due time, who else will do?

Rwandan students design automated egg incubator

Six students from the University of Rwanda’s College of Science and Technology (former KIST) have designed an automated solar-powered eggs incubator aimed at lowering the cost of poultry incubation in the country.

The incubator was designed by students from the University of Rwanda’s College of Science and Technology (Photo: The New Times)

The incubator was designed by students from the University of Rwanda’s College of Science and Technology (Photo: The New Times)

A students’ initiative under an association dubbed REtronics designed a solar and grid-run portable poultry eggs Incubator, which they believe will facilitate poultry production in the country.

Muramira, a member of the REtronics, said: “The incubator will be sold at Rwf150,000 to make it accessible for all local poultry farmers.

Rwanda has four incubation centres which include; Rubirizi, Gahanga, RwandaGic and Rulindo, and most of them import eggs and chicks from Europe and South Africa, which makes it expensive.

“Farmers are going to have an alternative,” said Muramira during an event organised to celebrate the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day at Lemigo Hotel in Kigali last Saturday.

The Day involved innovation exhibitions where various young innovators showcased various ICT-related gadgets.

“We want to be part of the solution,” Muramira said, adding that as students of technology, it is impractical to leave school and seek employment.

All products exhibited focused on encouraging young Rwandans to come up with home-grown solutions to national development challenges.

How the project started

During a meeting held at Klab, a local technology entrepreneurship breeding centre, the six electronic engineering finalists from the College of Science and Technology, brainstormed on how they could come up with a project that would fit the local market.

“Our aim was to contribute to national development in line with Vision 2020. The egg incubator turned out to be the best idea,” Muramira said.

The egg incubation system consists of a power supply unit, an energy storage unit and the egg incubation chamber.

The incubator is capable of handling up to 42 eggs per batch of incubation. However, the designers say the capacity varies depending on the customer’s preferred size.

Source: The New Times

kLab, the next birth place of big ICT4ag solutions in Rwanda

It’s quite impressive and promising! Youth both female and male spend most of their time busy sitting in front of their computers hacking their brains silently. When you get in, the first thing that welcomes you is the soft sounds of keyboards strokes, slow ambient music playing in the background and striking, attractive interior designs.

Young developers at kLab (Photo: kLab website)

Young developers at kLab (Photo: kLab website)

If you are an ICT savvy and have been to Rwanda or…have managed to attend the last ICT4Ag conference that took place in Kigali last November, you might be able to localize the place. Hey, welcome to the Silicon Valley of Rwanda, apparently the next birth place of big innovations in the smallest East African country’s ICT sector: you’ve already come to kLab.

Located in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, somewhere in Kacyiru, kLab sits at the top of Telecom House building, 6th floor, in an open view that enables developers to work with a fresh mind, while at the same time enjoying a magnificent view of Kigali City. There’s free high-speed Internet connection. kLab is re­ally the best hangout for developers.

Being the first-ever IT community in Rwanda, kLab is an open space where IT entrepreneurs, enthusiasts, students, engineers and designers –and any oth­ers that fall under the umbrella of ICT – meet to collaboratively support each other as well as share ideas and skills.

In operation since 2012, kLab has actively attracted many young people from various backgrounds – notably fresh high school graduates who want to acquire practical skills before head­ing to university, and startup owners who need guidance and experience.

And for sure, these young people are all busy developing some ICT apps that will serve effectively the rest of the community – mostly (in our case as it’s common for the whole Africa) rural communities where majority of the people depend on farming activities.

This is really the right direction for the new generation of young Rwandans where we have to hack our brains and come up with real solutions by means of new technologies to challenges we are facing.

For instance, when this morning I was exploring what this knowledge hub is bringing to us, I found out that the youth are determined to address various challenges, such as the improvement of bi-directional information sharing and communication between farmers and extension workers. Through ICT applications, how can access to finance services be easier for farmers by using an innovative tool.

Also in most cases, key areas of interest include information sharing and advisory on soil fertility, climate information, pests and disease, access to localized farming inputs, and the ability to verify counterfeit products, and many more.

There is no surprising thing to see that youth are busy working on agric related apps; given that we are an agrarian economy – with around 80% of the population depending on farming activities and yet we face a shortage of farmlands; so the innovations will surely help us to maximize yields from our tiny farmlands.

Last, but not least, I have to say that I was really amazed this morning when I was exploring some of the achievements of the kLab and I could even see some of the videos of the past reflecting what’s happening there. Among them, I came across with some videos from the last Regional Hackathon that took place in parallel with the ICT4ag – and really decided to share them with you on this blog so that you can get sight on reality there. I believe you will enjoy!

Ambiance at kLab when young developers are hacking their brains (Video from the Hackathon)

Interview with participants to ICT4ag at kLab

Interview with Co-founder ColabHive Mr Daniel at ICT4AG

‘Rwanda wooing investors with Special Economic Zones,’ – Grow Africa report

Rwanda offers a highly conducive business environment and stable macro-economic framework for investment in agriculture; it has been captured in the Grow Africa Annual report released last Friday.

Kigali Special Economic Zone (Photo: Grow Africa 2014 annual report)

Kigali Special Economic Zone (Photo: Grow Africa 2014 annual report)

The report noted that Rwanda’s positive legal environment is further bolstered by strong governance structures, which have seen Rwanda rated as the least corrupt nation in sub-Saharan Africa, and Kigali as the safest capital in the region.

The World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2014 ranked Rwanda as the top global reformer, and 32nd for doing business globally out of 189 countries. Indeed, extensive regulatory reforms have reduced bureaucracy around business creation, access to finance, tax breaks and risk mitigation, the Grow Africa report points out.

“A new Investment Code, currently in the process of being finalized, is set to enhance the country’s enabling environment even further,” reads part of the report.

According to the Grow Africa annual report, integral to these efforts has been the creation by the Government of Rwanda of Special Economic Zones, which are aimed at promoting private investment as well as industry and export growth by offering quality infrastructure, streamlined business regulations and incentives to investors and businesses.

On the 74th page of document, it says that attracting particular interest among agricultural investors is the Kigali Special Economic Zone, which also offers both regulatory incentives and the necessary infrastructure for agro-processing, including roads, energy, water and ICT.

Between 2000 and 2013, the value of registered private investments in Rwandan agriculture totaled $512 million across 184 projects. As the top export commodities, tea and coffee have remained significant investment targets, though proportionately only accounting for 19% of overall investment, the document revealed.

The 91-page report says the industry is increasingly witnessing diversification into emerging sub-sectors with growth potential, including beverages, floriculture, fruits and vegetables, dairy, meat, hides and skins, rice and grains, fish, honey and oils.

Through Grow Africa, the report says, Rwanda has identified specific investment projects to boost outputs, improve quality and drive up revenues for different commodities. These include expansion of the tea sector by increasing the growing area by a further 15,000 ha by 2017. Other processing facilities for Irish potato, cassava starch, animal feed and bio-fortified baby food are also under construction – all of which add value and facilitate domestic revenue generation, goals that will continue to represent the agricultural sector’s overarching priorities over the next five years.

While in some countries investors have found themselves dealing with multiple government agencies, and even basic requirements taking up to a year to resolve, the report says that, in contrast, Rwandan government is cited for its responsiveness and clarity.

The story was compiled from the Grow Africa annual report 2014 that can be seen here

‘Agriculture is important’

Finding ways on how to build on recent successes in unlocking over $7 billion worth of investment for African smallholder farmers is a top priority of the 24th World Economic Forum on Africa that is being held in Abuja, Nigeria, from 7 to 9 May 2014.

President Kagame (C) and President G. Jonathan during the WEF (Photo: Internet)

President Kagame (C) and President G. Jonathan during the WEF (Photo: Internet)

It is therefore fitting not only that the theme of this meeting is “Forging Inclusive Growth and Creating Jobs,” but also that it is taking place at an important time for the continent, the year of agriculture and food security.

It’s really very commendable that African leaders reaffirmed their commitment to transforming the agricultural sector across the continent during the Forum.

“There are huge opportunities in agriculture. This will create jobs and achieve food security,” said Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, President of Nigeria. “The key is not just producing enough food for local consumption, but also creating jobs along the value chain.”

The Nigerian president knows well what he is saying; given that huge investment has led his country on top of the richest African countries, according to a recent report. It’s really high time for us Africans to take advantage of our abundant arable lands and human resources (given that Africa has a young population able to use their forces to transform our agriculture).

“We are not here to make agriculture important, it’s in itself important. We are focusing on it to make sure that we maximize the profits for ourselves and for our people,” pointed out Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda.

But what is more important, President Kagame noted, is to know what needs to be done and whether people actually do it.

Get more details from President Kagame speaking on Rwanda’s experience during the forum

One priority area that was identified for future action was the issue of gender parity. Erastus Mwencha, Deputy Chairperson, African Union, said: “We are not seeing women emerging as entrepreneurs with increased income: how can you increase production if you do not involve the 50% of women who are our farmers?”

Hopefully these African leaders took note of this question and will act on it to find sustainable solution very soon.

YoBloCo: more than just raising youth awareness

I have just realized how much effective blogging can help us achieve fostering agricultural transformation. In few days from now, Rwanda’s agro-processing would get another boost – and surely this blog will have played a great role.

Capture of my Blog

Capture of my Blog

Four days ago, when I woke up early morning, I saw a new email from a gentleman based in Ottawa-Canada. The man, who is evidently an investor, wrote: “I got your contact while researching on agribiz… I wanted to get in contact and exchange and maybe, also get guidance from someone with your experience,” reads part of the email.

He went on saying: “My aim is to install a small plant (from South Africa) 3-4 tons per hour, producing maize flour and other by-products. I will travel to Kigali by the end of May for 4 weeks and would like to see if a meeting can be set up,” the main part of the email concluded. “I warmly hope to meet you soon somewhere in Kigali.” That’s how I ended my reply.

And when I checked quickly my Blogstat, I realized that someone based in Canada had just viewed more than 20 of my blogposts. Then I could establish a relationship between the message I received and the posts viewed: most of the posts viewed were the ones I wrote on the need of agro-processing in my country, Rwanda [samples of the posts can be viewed here first, second].

Then, I tried to make simple calculations and realized that a plant installed with capacity to process 3-4 tons per hour will be a huge investment to my country: not only attracting foreign investment(thousands of dollars), but also contributing to agricultural value addition.

There is no doubt that if the plan gets materialized, local maize growers will get ready market for their produce, in addition to accessing quality processed maize flour near them. The email made it clear that the investor wants to venture into maize flour, but also other by-products. Maybe animal feeds make part of the other products; it came abruptly into my mind. If so, we can say ‘a boost to agricultural value chain development.’

Think about a great number of people who will find jobs at the plant – most of them young people, I guess! And I could make a long list of development activities that a certain number of rural Rwandan farmers could get, thanks to the time I took to highlight some investment needs and opportunities in agriculture. It was really an amazing morning!

This is what I really wanted to see happening when I decided to create this blog.

Coming back to the philosophy behind the YoBloCo Competition, I have to remind that by initiating the competition, the “Agriculture, Rural Development and Youth in the Information Society (ARDYIS Project)”, wanted to achieve its mandate to “raise youth awareness and capacity on agricultural and rural development issues in ACP countries through ICTs.”

From my recent experience, I can say that the philosophy behind this initiative is something more than raising youth awareness; as the described experience has proven it.

Yes, the platform can be used to raise youth awareness, yes it can encourage youth to express their agriculture-related issues, successes and challenges, but I also see that it ultimately has high potential to connect young farmers with potential investors who can become partners and possibly bring in resources; given that access to agriculture finance has been a great challenge for many (young) farmers.

Imagine what would be the impact if there was at least one person blogging about activities of each farming cooperative he/she belongs to (given that the government has been pushing a lot so that farmers can join cooperatives as a way of facilitating capacity building, but also to allow them express their views together).

Underexploited opportunity

But again, I wondered what would happen to Rwanda’s agriculture if we had hundreds of young people blogging on agriculture-related issues, but it’s not yet the case. For this particular YoBloCo competition, I only saw two entries from Rwanda (mine inclusive). This was underexploited opportunity!

Is there any possibility to increase young people’s interest to do so? Is the environment conducive in Rwanda? The answer is yes.

One Laptop Per Child

Primary school children with their OLPC laptops in class (Internet photo)

Primary school children with their OLPC laptops in class (OLPC photo)

Briefly, I would not be mistaken to say that Rwanda is among African countries that are counting a lot on ICT potential for their better future. Even little Rwandan children are being introduced to ICT tools: through One Laptop Per Child Program, schoolchildren touch computers from their first day of primary school one. By the end of 2012, 210,000 laptops had been deployed to more than 400 schools across the country. And most of these children come from farming families. Even those whose parents are not farmers, obviously their uncles or grandfathers are farmers – hence a great connection to farm realities.

Schoolgoing girl with a laptop in her rural neighborhood (Internet photo)

Schoolgoing girl with a laptop in her rural neighborhood (OLPC photo)

Then, even though I’m not a teacher, I guess that one of the best methodological approaches to be effective in introducing these ICT tools to children from farming background, would be to use agriculture-related examples for better understanding. Otherwise, I don’t think, let’s say, examples on drones will be the best ones! Obviously these little children would grow easily and rapidly their interests in the new tools and in agriculture. They would become the best “kinds of hybrids.” For sure something big could come out of this interest.

Well, I can talk and talk a lot on this topic. But to conclude this piece, let me note that engaging youth in agriculture issues with means of ICTs seems to be the quickest way of achieving information society among farming communities, and as many of you would argue, once you have easy access to information, you’ve got power to improve your livelihoods significantly and get out of poverty. Then, initiatives such as YoBloCo prove to be on the right way.

Youth on track to develop more mobile apps for agric professionalization

In the recent past, I posted a piece on my views on why ICT apps should take the lead of Rwanda’s agricultural transformation. And as time goes on, I become extremely happy to see that happening, thanks to great job being done by determined young Rwandans.

Members of AgriStars being congratulated after proving that their app has high potential to provide solutions for agriculture

Members of AgriStars being congratulated after proving that their app has high potential to provide solutions for agriculture

Now the latest good news in Rwanda on ICT for agric is a new mobile app that will help in detecting soil fertility. The project has been developed by Agristars, a group of four young Rwandans from the University of Rwanda’s College of Science and Technology.

“After analysing, one is able to tell what nutrients are in the soil and what crops are suitable to be grown on that particular piece of land,” explains Dieudonne Ukurikiyeyesu, a member of the team. “We are not going to sleep, we need to improve our project and work hard.”

These are really very promising statements for Rwanda’s agriculture sector in their near future. The AgriStars’ app emerged the excellent one among others yesterday on Saturday during the national Microsoft Imagine Cup competition.

The software application they developed analyses the fertility of the soil by simply taking a picture of the soil and then subjecting the sample to laboratory analysis.

In my views, such innovative ideas are very important for us Rwandans for several reasons: first of all, once the app gets operational, for sure there will be significant increase of productivity; given that farmers will be planting suitable crops to a particular area.

Since Rwandans face shortage of farmlands (with an average of 0.59ha per household), the mobile app will really help many Rwandan farmers to maximize profit out of their tiny farmlands. Because we are a small country, so each inch counts.

Last, but not least, it’s obvious that once the business plan of the project gets finalized and operational, for sure we expect creation of jobs for many young Rwandans who will be working with the project.

The AgriStars emerged as one of young Rwandans who are able to create ICT-enabled solutions for agriculture after that many more young Rwandan developers have shown their keenness to embrace agriculture with new ICT solutions. A recent example has been a University student girl, Nancy Sibo, who has last month unveiled a Mobile Application that detects estrus cycle of cows. Even though the ICT4ag is still in its embryonic stage here, but I know a few more young Rwandans who are busy working on their agriculture-related ICT projects — which is a good trend. I will keep you informed on these innovative ideas being developed by youth here in Rwanda.

 

Girinka: How a simple cow gives hope to many Rwandan families

Maria Uzamukunda, 45, a resident of Kamonyi district of Southern Province, says she has been improving her family livelihoods significantly thanks to a cow she got few years back.

cowThe mother of two used to have no house, but managed to get her own decent house, pro¬vide her school-going children with all basic needs and now cover her family’s health insurance among other needs.

What is more interesting to know is that the woman, who became widow following the 1994 genocide against Tutsi, didn’t buy the cow, but she got it from her neighbor free of charge. The widow also has already given the first female calf to her neighbor poor. And so forth.

In other words, Uzamukunda is among beneficiaries of Girinka [loosely translated as ‘may you own a cow’] initiative that is playing a great role in alleviating poverty, improving nutrition while increasing income for poor families in rural Rwanda since its inception in 2006.

Evidently the initiative has contributed to an increase in agricultural production in Rwanda, especially milk products. For instance, between 2009 and 2011, national milk production increased by 11.3%, rising to 372.6 million litres from 334.7 million litres. Over the same period, meat production increased by 9.9%, according to the Government of Rwanda Annual Report 2010-2011.

Given that FAO has dedicated this year to Family farming, which is defined 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, I really do believe that such a home-grown solution (Girinka) is a good example of how African Continue reading