Ray of hope looms over Rwanda, Burundi wheat farms
A ray of hope is looming over farms of wheat growers in Rwanda and Burundi nearly two years since the launch of a project intended to secure wheat-based livelihoods. The project initiated by ASARECA and the CGIAR research program on Wheat (WHEAT), led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) has since promoted smallholder wheat value chains. Dr. Brian Isabirye of ASARECA, the in charge of the project, says it was designed to improve the productivity and competitiveness of smallholder wheat production systems.
As part of an integrated package, at least six (6) out of targeted seven (7) proven wheat innovations have been tested in Burundi. These include sowing techniques, application of fertilizer, weeding, harvesting techniques, threshing techniques, post harvest techniques. Two (2) new varieties, ISWSN 64 and HRWYT12 have been selected by farmers as part of the package. All these were done following the Innovation Technology Adoption platforms approach. Research within the innovations platform approach is part of the means of addressing issues of crop quality, volumes of harvest and pricing. As a result, the mean yield at project sites today has increased from 0.8 to 2.5t/ha, exceeding the project target of 1.6t/ha. It is expected that at least two improved wheat varieties will be made available for uptake.
Already, farmers are testifying to marked progress in the project. Mrs Chantal Niyonzima, a wheat grower from Mugongomanga commune in Burundi explains that she has been able to harvest more than 3.8T/ha from the improved variety 11th HRWYT12 compared to (650 kg/ha) from local varieties when grown at the same conditions.
In Rwanda, the project is being implemented in Musanze while in Burundi it is being implemented at Mugongomanga and Muruta communes.
Since the intervention started in Burundi, the project has produced a value chain assessment/survey report; established two (2) Innovation Platforms each with an average of 12 people in Muruta and Mugonomanga. Besides, the project has signed a market linkage contract with IADH, an NGO; and scaled up proven TIMPs adaptable to smallholder wheat production systems an integrated value chain.
In a bid to develop the capacity of stakeholders to utilize proven wheat TIMPs, 14 farmer groups out of the targeted 26 with 10 persons per group, have adopted the innovations. The farmers testify to increased production and multiple benefits including using the stalks left after harvest for thatching houses. As a result, the motivation to use the package of agronomic interventions including the use of fertilizer is high. Two (2) other stakeholders who have adopted the innovations and five out of targeted 3 partner organisations have been facilitated to incubate TIMPs and agri-businesses. These include DPAE, a government extension agency; IADH, an NGO; MINOLAC, a private processor; CAPAD and ISABU.
In Rwanda, the project has established two innovation platforms at Musanze comprising farmers, RAB, Imbaraga extension organization, agro-dealers. The platform has been pivotal in RAB work in multiplying varieties, management of demonstration plots, and training on management of demonstration plots.
In both Rwanda and Burundi, farmers had become accustomed to poor yielding varieties for other associated benefits. For example, they grew long traditional wheat varieties, which would provide them straws for thatching houses besides the food. Researchers in the project, however, explained to them the types of varieties and all the benefits and shortcomings associated with them. The idea was to persuade them to adopt the improved high yielding varieties, which could earn them enough income to build iron-roofed houses instead of straw thatched. Farmers who adopted the improved varieties realized three times higher harvest.
Wheat is a major staple food crop in Rwanda and Burundi. Its demand is growing faster than any other major food grain. Currently, the increasing gap between domestic production and consumption is met through imports, which strain the limited foreign exchange reserves of the fragile economies in the two countries.
“Despite the two countries having conducive environments for the production of the crop, their productivity is marginal. In Burundi, national annual wheat production is estimated at 10,000 tones, but the current national productivity level is at 0.4-0.8T/ha. In Rwanda, yields are averaging 2t/ha. This is mainly because wheat is sown in broadcast system, which leads to wastage of materials and poor productivity. Other constraints to wheat production include diseases such as wheat rust and Fusarium, low soil fertility and use of unimproved wheat varieties.
The project is being implemented by ASARECA (supported by the Multi Donor Trust Fund administered by the World Bank), in collaboration with WHEAT (http://wheat.org) from the CGIAR Fund. ASARECA and WHEAT have each committed US$150,000 (USD$300, 000 in all) over the next two years for the project.