Rubavu farmers steadily gain from modern farming as food security rises
Written by: George Kalisa
Saturday, May 26th, 2018, 7:19
Rubavu small scale farmers have immensely gained from the agricultural programmes like the integrated pest management (IPM) and Farmer Field School (FFS) that were launched in 2009. Agricultural officials there said productivity per hectare of arable land was on the rise as a result of abandoning low yielding, traditional farming methods in preference to modern farming that came with intensive sensitization of the small scale rural farmers. Farmers expressed gratitude to the Rubavu District authorities for being supportive.
Farmers in Rubavu District have had their skills grossly upgraded since a farmers’ cooperative codenamed Cooperative de facilitateurs Agricole (COFAR) started in Rwanda’s western district of Rubavu in 2015. COFAR President Modeste Ntibitura took this reporter through the profile of the farmers’ cooperative during a tour of the demonstration farms overlooking Bahimba model village and those at the cooperative’s premises located in Rugerero Sector.
Ntibitura said that their farms have graduated in a regional research centre and laboratory for many researchers and policymakers in agriculture. In 2017 a delegation from 45 African countries visited this cooperative during a knowledge, best practices and experience sharing tour. According to the visitors’ book this reporter saw the regional delegation was impressed by the startling progress the farmers’ cooperative had registered only in two years.
The cooperative that is located at Gitebe II in Muhira cell of Rugerero Sector currently boasts of 61 members, 24 of them are women. It is overseen by Rubavu District authorities whose role in its formation is praised by cooperative members. It was formed by trainers of trainers (TOT), supported by RAB, had acquired various agricultural skills in modern farming, including crop intensification from the government’s Farmer Field School (FFS) since 2009.
Ntibitura made special mention of other invaluable partners like the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and several local NGOs.
Basically, the nearly three year old cooperative has greatly helped beneficiaries along their journey to transform from traditional farming methods to modern faming which has increased productivity per unit of arable land. The activities of the farmer to farmer extension officers range crop to animal husbandry.
What does COFAR offer to farmers?
The activities of COFAR, the only farmers’ cooperative in the district are in line with Rwandan government policy of modernizing agriculture through facilitating of farmers to acquire skills of modern farming. One of the government programme in the sector called Farmer-to-Farmer Extension has been implemented by the Rubavu District authorities through COFAR, a non-profit making cooperative, explains Ntibitura.
“Unlike other types of cooperation, COFAR is basically a non-profit cooperative which provides free technical services with the help of agriculturist officers who were trained by RAB and agronomists,” Ntibitura says.
Besides training other trainers through a TOT programme, the trainers and agronomists sensitize the local farmers on the importance of fertilizer alongside teaching them how to apply them. They also encourage change of mindset for farmers to appreciate why they should practice modern farming. They also visit farmers.
“Every week we visit farmers to assess progress [agricultural ecosystem analysis] on their farms to demonstrate to them the increase in production that comes along with rise in productivity of land the more they apply modern methods of farming we pass over to them,” adds Ntibitura.
COFAR officers basically provide technical services. Ntibitura says that they have two programmes they implement for better results. Beneficiaries include farmers of maize, beans, irish potatoes and vegetables have benefitted largely from farmer practice and integrated pest management (IPM) programmes, launched by the government in 2007. The farmers get skills on how to fight diseases and pests and how to use hybrid seeds and other seedlings developed from the cooperatives green house.
Ntibitura says when farmers are taught from the demonstration farms contrasted with the classroom environment, they gain fast on-job skills which they apply when they go back and results were impressive.
Before the programme started in the district in 2009 a farmer of irish potatotes would get 12 tonnes per hectare contrasted with 35 they get today while they would get 1.2 tonnes of beans compared to 3.4. There is an increase of about three tonnes in maize production to 4.5 up from 1.5 tonnes per hectare, COFAR President explains. The trend is the same with other crops including vegetables.
They have been able to recruit one facilitator at the cell level who identifies and trains a potential farmer called farmer promoter who oversees other famers in his locality. He also starts a demonstration farm which helps him or her to train the farmers at the grassroots.
Their aim aligns with the government goal of ensuring food securing by producing enough food and get a surplus which they can sell to increase household incomes for the betterment of the wellbeing of Rwandans in the new Rwanda.
The district helps them in creating more contacts with agriculture partners who variously support the cooperative.
COFAR stated a school for children in lower primary and Nursery recently to save little children the burden of travelling to schools far away from their homes. Enrolment has clocked 35 this year.
The cooperative complements support from the district and other stakeholders through engaging in other income generation activities. For instance, they constructed a huge conference hall which hosts meetings and weddings.
It has four permanent employees who include agronomists paid by the government. Others activities include operating a green house where they develop hybrid seedlings of especially potatoes. Just adjacent the green house there is a laboratory that is used to give treatment and carry out various tests to soils before they are used in growing of crops.
COFAR president echoed a call to agriculture partners within and outside the country to give them more support in order to realize their goals and be able to satisfy the needs of all farmers in the district.