Despite the coronavirus pandemic having stopped people’s businesses, farmers are working hard to make sure there is enough produce at the end of the season.
With above 80 per cent of farmers having already finished planting, mainly beans and soybeans, there are farmers who have delayed for the season 2020B, which begins mid-February and ends June.
Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), in partnership with districts, has deployed 113 mechanised farming equipment across the country to speed up land preparations and planting activities with farmers being charged nothing.
It says it was done as part of the efforts to implement measures of preventing the spread of COVID-19 by avoiding gatherings of people, in farms in this case.
Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente’s directive on the lockdown of March 21 said that some essential activities are allowed to continue despite the country’s lockdown, farming is among those exempted.
Some of the equipment is owned by RAB, while others are hired from private companies with the agricultural institution paying all the costs.
RAB says above 90 per cent of the land was prepared while planting is at 80 per cent.
Dr Patrick Karangwa, the Director General of RAB, told The New Times: “We want to increase the production because we are in difficult times. This pandemic will have an impact on the economy so it is important that farmers plant all the available land. That is what we have told them; their efforts are needed more than ever before because that is how people will have the resilience in the current situation.”
The notable machinery support given to Eastern Province went to districts of Kirehe, Nyagatare and Kayonza.
In Kirehe District, there are two big cooperatives, NAICO and COVAMIS, from sectors of Nasho and Mpanga, respectively, who had delayed due to certain conditions of buyers of last season’s produce.
Damascène Semikore, the president of COVAMIS cooperative, explained that major maize buyers like AIF and EAX buy maize with cobs, with condition that the maize are dry and still on the farm.
It took them long to harvest and therefore delayed their preparations for the next season.
There is also an area that had been developed for soybean crop tests, and it was not possible to harvest it before recently, but the land is available now.
Semikore said they are trying to assure the farmers that the exercise is free of charge and aimed to help farmers achieve their targets.
Janvier Nsengimana, the Director of Agriculture in Kirehe District, said the progress of planting is already above 95 per cent, and the two machines are expected to cultivate more than 80 hectares in the two sectors in no more than a week.
Basing on the national meteorology agency prediction RAB recently urged farmers to plant early as it is expected that the rainfall will end in May.
The production has been generally good last season, but Nsengimana said maize buyers have reduced in numbers due to measures in place to control the coronavirus, requiring them to have special authorizations to transport such “essential” goods.
They hope that by this week, however, the buyers will have everything ready to and transport it from Kirehe to Kigali.
Last season 2020B, which is from September to February, COVAMIS cooperative produced above 800 metric tonnes of maize from 381 hectares.
However, only 405 metric tonnes of maize were sold to African Improved Food (AIF), and 10 tonnes to EAX, because the two big companies only buy from the farms and never buy the grains that a farmer has moved home or any other place.
The remaining quantity is currently being sold to other markets, Semikore said.
The AIF processing plant was paying rwf259 for a kilo, which he describes as a good price. The cooperative cashed in more than rwf102 million from AIF and more than rwf2 million from EAX.
There are 700 farmers in Mpanga irrigation scheme and 325 are part of COVAMIS cooperative.
The farmer said that the coronavirus outbreak that has caused a lockdown cannot affect them, and their aim is to get more produce, especially beans and vegetables.
“The coronavirus will not affect our farming at all, because, what are doing now is urging the members to work even harder to get much more quantity, those working in the farm will keep the distance in order to prevent coronavirus too,” Semikore announced.
The third point, he continued, is that they have finished sending their maize’s money to their members’ bank accounts such that they will be able to buy seed as soon as possible, and solve their needs.
Dr Karangwa said that the last season, 2020A (from Sept-Feb), was very successful, and the production of major crops like maize was higher than two previous seasons combined.
The previous season A produced around 330,000 metric tonnes of maize, but the latest one’s produce was more than 450,000 metric tonnes, he said.
Season A is mostly for maize crop, while B is popular with beans and minor maize plantations.
“The quantity of maize produce in both Season A and B combined used to be around 420,000,” Dr Karangwa explained.
In the meantime, due to enough rainfall over several past months, there is no shortage of food in Mpanga, a sector that used to face prolonged draughts, and Semikore and his cooperative members want to do something to help.
“Today, we have started a campaign to mobilise food from members for those in need during this period, since we do not have food problem, we can confirm that we will donate between 1-2 metric tonnes of maize,” he pledged.