In defence of Rwanda’s agricultural performance- Interview with Rwanda’s Minister of Agriculture

By Rwanda News Agency

Rwanda is nine years away from realising its Vision 2020, which is designed to transform its largely agricultural -based society to a knowledge-based middle income society. However, unimpressive results in the country’s agriculture sector are threatening this ambitious vision. Agnes Kalibata, Rwanda’s Minister of Agriculture, speaks out on the way forward.

JPEG - 15.6 kb
Agriculture minister Agnes Kalibata

Can you highlight some of the major programs that you intend to role out in 2011?

We are dealing with food security, ensuring that we have enough food for our people. We are working on the crop intensification program. We are consolidating land by organizing farmers into cooperatives to ensure that on this consolidated land we optimize production. The other program is irrigation. We are ensuring that should we in our production systems be affected by rain, our irrigation schemes will provide the basic requirement of the country in terms of food production. We are looking for partners. We are putting a lot of effort in that. We are looking to get about 100,000 hectares in the next five years.

Do you think this is big enough?

No, it’s not too big. It’s going to be just enough to compliment the efforts that we do in agriculture. The other thing that we are doing is investing in post-harvest infrastructure. To reduce losses in the last two years we have been working on reducing post-harvest losses from 35 per cent, which is very high, to the average of 20 percent.

Does that appear in specific crops?

Yes, post-harvest losses are more in some crops than others. It depends on the amount of investment you want to put in a specific crop or what you expect from it. Now we are investing in grains that are dry and storable. We’re already building storage infrastructure in different places and we are also helping farmer cooperatives with drying the ground. Fruits and vegetables require a more complicated system, but we are also trying to establish it, having collection centers where farmers can bring their fruits, having a cold chain so that they can be transported and not perish before they get to the consumer.

What systems are those?

We started with Inyange [a local, agro-processing company], setting up collection centers to ensure that the system functions towards supplying what Inyange needs and what other people might need.

But Inyange cannot buy all the produce from farmers

Then other people will come in. They are helping us set a pace; they will not buy all. At least if we can develop a system to supply them that would be a good place to start.

There has been no investment in the agriculture sector for the last two years and only Frw4 billion investments in the past 11 years while other sectors are attracting hundreds of billions. Why?

There are a number of reasons for that. Creating agricultural markets is not easy. Locally the infrastructure needs to be built and really the private sector cannot invest in infrastructure, but the government does invest in infrastructure and the private sector builds on that. There is also a perceived risk in agriculture mostly because people think agriculture doesn’t pay. The problem is that people think you can treat agriculture as a part-time business and still get as much output out of it as you want. You have to give it money and time.

In other sectors, such as ICT, the level of campaigns and advertising brings in investors. How come we don’t see that hype in agriculture?

I don’t know. I think we do that. We even put facilities in place. We have facilities that are put in place for people to invest in agriculture. Agricultural grants have been put in place for the last five years. People use it when they want to use it. People were using the grant to buy cows. Now they’re saying we want to use it to invest in agro-processing. Nobody’s coming to it. It’s not because the money is not there—it’s because somehow there is no interest in agro-processing. There’s a lack of capacity in agro-processing. Here we have money in agro-processing and it’s been sitting in the bank for five years. I think there is low capacity in the private sector to develop projects.

One of the cornerstones of Rwanda’s vision 2020 is transformation of the society, which is largely agricultural based, to information based. Now that we have nine years to the end of that period, don’t you think this trend and all these inefficiencies will impede the target of the vision?

Rwanda has developed a very strong Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) policy and that is why there is a lot of money being channeled into the development of SME capacity in terms of skills. We have what we call rescue plans. Some people put up industries but then because they didn’t have a very good plan going into the industry they fail. The ministry then comes in to support them and help them understand management issues, capital investment and issues of money flows. We have a lot of capacity issues in the country in the public sector. Currently, the slow investments in agriculture are an indication of the fear of not knowing what to do.

President Kagame has done a lot of campaigns around the world attracting foreign investors, how come no one is investing in agriculture?

International investors are concerned about the ability of the market and we have to help them understand that we are not just talking about the Rwandan market, but a bigger market of about 120 million people in the region. We are talking about providing a very good investment climate that they probably won’t find in many other places. They have their considerations that are not related to skill or money. Their considerations are all these other things such as whether they will be able to get the appropriate skills on the ground and the investment climate.

Can you convince us that you will soon have foreign investors?

We have someone who has invested in wheat and he is already putting processed wheat on the market. We have people who are looking to invest in macadamia, coffee and tea. As these sectors start growing, people will look to invest in them.

A recent World Bank Report says there is a decrease in agricultural production. Don’t such reports discourage investors from coming?

The report was true, it was not a lie. The decrease was based on the drought we had in the first quarter. It is not good for investors to come to Rwanda and think it will be a bed of roses. The question is what plans are in place to ensure that these challenges can be dealt with. We have a strong irrigation campaign. These irrigation schemes will be part of supplying investors, to make them productive.

Two of your major programs, distribution of cows and subsidized fertilizers, have been involved in scandals. How do you explain that?

It is not a scandal. I would say it is mismanagement issues. We don’t encourage it, because we have lots of money to disburse in a specific period of time. We needed so many cows in a short period of time but people compromised the cows. The second challenge was when local leaders decided to start picking themselves opposed to giving them to the very people they were supposed to. It was not what I would categorize as a scandal. The sale of fertilizers was not a scandal. When you have subsidized fertilizers in a region where there is no fertilizer at all, there is a huge temptation for fertilizers to be sold at that perceived sale price even though it is extremely low. There were leakages where fertilizer was sold to farmers in neighboring countries, like Burundi or Tanzania.

Did that threaten the program?

No. It was a very small population of farmers, especially the starters, who had not used fertilizers before. Local authorities need to understand that this is a problem that will fail if we don’t all add our effort to appreciate that this is a government program, a public commodity that needs to be protected.

What other major obstacles is the agricultural sector facing?

It is the rate at which we are rolling out things. You would like the program to go faster, but it takes a while to educate people to understand. There is also value addition issue so that farmers can get value for the produce that they are harvesting. Investing in the next step after production is not happening. The other challenge is financing.

%d bloggers like this: