New land husbandry technologies dedicated to improving productivity and commercialising agriculture through hillside intensification in remote mountainous zones in rural Rwanda are helping smallholder farmers to produce nutritious food and make money.
At Karangara, a small hillside village of Gicumbi, one of the districts located at about 60km from Kigali in Northern Rwanda, the transformation of eroded, barren hillsides into terraced farmland has allowed farmers an alternative to growing Irish potatoes and corns, which they sell, and beans and maize, which they eat, on the terraces.
In this village, Mary Nzamukosha, a smallholding female farmer, has been growing vegetables since childhood, before she was employed as manpower in the comprehensive land husbandry works.
Yet the 38-year-old mother of five still grows vegetables, but she has added Irish potatoes and maize to the crops in her farm, which now helps her sell food to people beyond her region.
“My land has become more productive thanks to the terracing activity, and this helped me to raise income,” she told journalists.
The completed Project Land Husbandry Water Harvesting and Hillside Irrigation (LWH) Project that was implemented under Rwanda Agricultural and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB) applied comprehensive land husbandry technologies to address soil erosion and soil loss.
About 21 648 hectares out of a target of 19 940 hectares were treated with comprehensive land husbandry technologies across LWH intervention sites, according to official estimates.
The most positive aspect of one of these innovative farming approaches to build terraced farms in the fertile hills of 16 districts across Rwanda has now transformed these areas into a local breadbasket under a total budget of 147 million dollars that was allocated by Rwandan government with its different development partners.
Through the current policy on land use consolidation, farmers like Nzamukosha have to comply before with an official instruction to grow a single priority crop that has been identified per each specific region.
Before land husbandry technologies were introduced, farmers in certain hilly and rugged areas prone to severe soil erosion suffered from chronic poverty due to unproductive land coupled with poor agricultural practices.
“Thanks to the initiative, the farm output and income have increased than ever before. I am now able to pay school fees and mutual insurance for my children,” said Nzamukosha.
One of the senior managers at LWH Project, John Hitimana, said the initiative had not only enormous potential to make significant contribution in addressing malnutrition, but also it helped so many people lifted out of poverty.
“Local communities have increased their income thanks to the employment they got through these new terracing construction and restoration works,” he said.
Nzamukosha participated in terracing works which earned her money for health insurance, fertilisers and food for the family.
Her land has since become more productive than ever.
Now the mother of four managed to build a decent house and she owns a pig’s farm that cost her around five million Rwandan francs.
Before land treatment and soil erosion control, the project put in much effort to mobilise farmers to increase their ownership of project activities.
“Extensive farmer mobilisation and sensitisation on project interventions were applied to ensure both the community and grassroots adopt and implement new development for their livelihood change,” Hitimana said.
Experts in the agriculture sector are convinced that developing hillside irrigation to make a part of land to productive even in dry season aims to boost national production and hence GDP through improvement of agricultural production by growing also some cash crops.
“One of the major purposes is to build the capacity of rural farmers in agribusiness to ensure development of rural area,” Hitimana said.
During the implementation phase, the initiative also involved local leaders in the mobilisation of farmers and land transformation process to ensure the sustainability of the land husbandry activities in these remote rural settings.
The Rwandan government has adopted a number of policies dedicated to promoting new farming technologies in rural areas.
In a country which is confronted with the increasing problem of limited land, Rwanda is 26 338 square-kilometres but has over 12 million people, ways to effectively farm what land is available has become so important.