Rwanda: orange power

A more ore eloquent summary of technological innovation is difficult to imagine than the words of this song. Since 2009 FARA has been promoting the cultivation of orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) in Rwanda. Although traditional sweet potato is a solid staple, it is not particularly nutritious. OFSP, on the other hand, is full of vitamin A – sadly lacking in the diets of many farming families in Rwanda.
Good nutrition is important for everyone, but for the TT Mwogo Cooperative in Bugesera, it is literally life-saving. The thread that binds the members of this platform together is that most of them are HIV-positive and can live full lives only if they eat healthy food.

Costanzia Uzamukunda, leader of the cooperative, is 32 and has been HIV-positive for the past three years. But she is quite healthy and so is her vegetable garden. She is a very successful farmer. OFSP has changed her life.
Faustin Musonera, president of the cooperative, says: ‘We grow a variety of crops here, mostly vegetables. But OFSP has won us over completely. Gorretti Nyirahabimana is only 26, but her eyesight started failing last year. She was terrified about losing her sight.

But once the cooperative started cultivating OFSP and she started eating it and her eyesight returned.’ Patricia Kankindi, 51, who has been HIV-positive for several years, adds: ‘OFSP is different. It tastes very good and our children love it. Now when we weed our fields, we sing together.’ Copamanya Cooperative is the other cooperative workingwith DONATA in the Bugesera area. Rahab Uwimana, the senior woman in the group, extolled the virtues of OFSP. OFSP roots
She says: ‘This orange vegetable is very healthy. We use its flour to make cakes and bread. We even make a drink from it. It tastes good and our children love it.’ Ruth Mukankagara, 36, is shy by nature. Speaking very quietly but articulately, she talks about how OFSP had improved her family’s livelihood far beyond her expectations. Her neighbour, Emerita Musabyimana, is clearly delighted at hearing Ruth speak so eloquently and confidently with strangers. Laughing, she says: ‘Ma Mukankagara hasn’t spoken that many words at one time in years – you see how OFSP makes her talk!’

The farmers of Duhange Cooperative in Rwamagana District, about 100 km east of the capital, Kigali, have been spectacularly successful. The cooperative was established in 2006 and includes 36 members, 21 of them women. Unlike most Rwandan farmers, including Bugasera’s, these farmers collectively own the land they cultivate. They also own an impressive Hyundai truck and are in the process of building a sizable bakery to prepare their own products for sale, cutting out the middlemen who traditionally siphon off much of the profit of farming.
But a big bakery needs a reliable supply of electricity and their village has never had it. Undeterred, the cooperative members exhibited remarkable business expertise and recently succeeded in brokering a deal
with the government, with assistance from the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), to install electricity in the village.

Dativa Mukanyandwi, a vivacious 26-year-old cooperative member, provides a tour of the new bakery for OFSP products. She shows the various pieces of equipment the cooperative has purchased in preparation for supplying an array of baked products to neighbouring villages. ‘Until now’, she says, ‘we all had to travel to the town of Rwamagana to buy bread.

Now we will supply it right here. Let the people of Rwamagana come to us instead!’ Martin Karemera, 60, uproots several sweet potatoes to show that they are ready to be harvested. Although all varieties of OFSP are characterised by their orangecolour, there is considerable variation. The cooperative grows them side by side.

The village of Nyirangarama, in Rulindo district, 30 km north of Kigali, is where DONATA first introduced OFSP. Cultivation of the crop there, and throughout the country, has brought new prosperity to the farmers as well as improved nutrition. The significance of this village to FARA, and to Rwanda, was clearly demonstrated when FARA’s board visited in May 2012. After seeing the fields, they visited Sina Gerard Urwibutso, a private company that uses OFSP to make various products. The factory is a world-class operation employing nearly 100 staff and business is booming.
But DONATA is not the only FARA project operating in Rwanda. The Sub-Saharan Africa Challenge Programme (SSACP), an initiative of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), is coordinated by FARA at its secretariat in Accra. The SSACP has been working with farmers in northern Rwanda for the past three years. The farmers of Gataraga village in Musanze district, near the Ugandan border, cultivate Irish potatoes. Here, the emphasis is on integrated agricultural research for development (IAR4D), an initiative that takes seriously the maxim that a chain – in this case the value chain – is only as strong as its weakest link.

In Gataraga, the weakest link was marketing – specifically, how to get the potatoes to market and present them to customers in an attractive way. Potatoes are good to eat, but they are heavy. Moreover, once they are harvested, they are dirty and unattractive.

The SSACP team strengthened the ‘weakest link’ by identifying a creative whirlwind named Josephine Mukankusi. Together they developed an ingenious packing method for selling potatoes made from freely available local materials. Josephine has prospered significantly through this technology, recently buying a car and employing several neighbours to help prepare potatoes for market. They wash the dirt off and then package them in convenient baskets that are attractive and easy to carry.

Eunice Ishimwe, Health and Nutrition Coordinator for World Vision International, FARA’s partner in promoting OFSP in the southern part of the country, has been working closely with DONATA since the project was initiated. She told the DONATA team that the farmers of the Copamanya cooperative in Bugesera composed the song that features at the beginning of this chapter bythemselves, the complete words of which are as given in the box.

 

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Malawi: money for production-savvy smallholder farmers

For Billy Volonje, a smallholder farmer in Village S5 in Malawi’s Salima District, making about 165,000 Malawian Kwacha (USD550) in a season is a big difference. This was the surprising windfall after he sold 37 bags of sweet red sorghum crop to Chibuku Breweries in the 2011 farming season. Volonje’s livelihood is dependent on weather and yield, and the ability to earn new income is thanks to an innovative project being promoted by FARA. Volonje, who has been growing sorghum since 2009, is one of 100,000 smallholder farmers in Salima, who have benefited from the PSTAD funded by the AfDB. The project is promoting red sorghum in the Chinguluwe Extension Planning Area (EPA) under the Salima Agricultural Development Division (SLADD). Salima, a traditional sorghum-growing area, is witnessing a small revolution as farmers enjoy the fruits of better management in growing the cereal.

Red sweet sorghum is ideal for beer production, making it a favoured cash crop in Salima, a district 120 km east of Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe. Now with a secure market, farmers are looking to the future and turning their 0.2-hectare plots of mapira (the Chichewa word for sorghum) into profitable fields. ‘I have been growing sorghum for three years and I learned that if you do not thin down your crop, the harvest would be poor,’ Volonje says. ‘Doing this enabled me to produce enough grains, some of which I sold for 165,000 kwacha – my best result in recent years. I have used the money I earned from my sorghum crop to buy 10 acres [4.4 hectares] of land to build my house. I currently live in a government settlement area.’ Volonje harvested 62 bags of sorghum and sold 37 bags to Chibuku who offered a higher price than the traders who took his crop in 2009 for 52 kwacha a kilogramme. In the 2012 season he was planning to increase his acreage. ‘Getting sorghum seed is a challenge,’ says Volonje, ‘but I have some saved from the last season, and I wish the government can, in future, include sorghum seed as part of its subsidy package. This will change my farm forever.’   

Gilbert Malota, focal person for the RAILS project in Malawi, says that if sorghum is to demonstrate impact in terms of income for farmers, there is a good chance it can be included in the government voucher programme that allows farmers to buy maize seed and fertilizer.

‘PSTAD has brought together all stakeholders and made people open up and share,’ says Malota. ‘Through the programme the department will be connected to the Internet with a server and other ICT equipment and accessories, which should strengthen the platform to discuss and share information within the sorghum and maize value chains.’ Another farmer, Grace Chapota Liwonde, harvested 20 bags of sorghum in the last season from her 0.4 hectare plot. She would have harvested more had it not been for a dry spell in 2011. ‘This year I plan to increase the land on which I grow sorghum,’ says Liwonde, who is also a teacher at the primary school in Mkukhi, her village. ‘I have put my two boys through school with the proceeds from sorghum and I intend to see them through university as this crop is providing good income.’ Liwonde said sorghum has also been an easy crop to grow as a woman famer, because it is not as heavy work as maize. ‘Sorghum is not just for money but for food as well, and an opportunity for women to do better in farming,’ she added. In Malawi, the PSTAD programme whose two projects include DONATA and RAILS has supported sorghum production with inputs and knowledge sharing, resulting in yield increase from 0.8 tonnes to 1.1 tonnes during the first year of the programme. The programme has helped bridge the gap between research outputs and farmers’ adoption of new technologies. Agriculture is Malawi’s economic mainstay, says Stella Kankwamba, Director of Agricultural Extension Services
in the Ministry of Agriculture, noting that the PSTAD programme was a timely intervention in Malawi’s quest for food security and drive to equip smallholder farmers with agribusiness skills.

‘For some of our farmers who have never earned enough money to think of saving, the production and marketing opportunity that PSTAD has offered sorghum farmers is life changing,’ she says. ‘The programme helped us improve information sharing, and more importantly access new technologies to smallholder farmers.’ Kankwamba believes that linkages created and promoted by PSTAD are not only transforming the livelihoods of smallholder farmers but also strengthening her department’s capacity to deliver better extension advice.
‘PSTAD has come at the right time by providing us with the tools for information sharing – a critical component in developing our agriculture,’ she adds. ‘The impact on farmers is obvious. They are earning more income and buying assets. There is increased use of fertilizer by sorghum farmers, something unheard of in the past; better planting methods have been adopted, leading to high yields; and the market linkages developed with companies like Chibuku also drive production.’

The Deputy Director for Agriculture Research Services in the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr M. Phillimon Banda, concurs with Kankwamba on the improved information sharing triggered by the PSTAD programme. But he
regrets that inflexible policies have limited information sharing and collaboration between researchers and
farmers.

‘One of the solutions PSTAD should pursue is sensitization of policy-makers because they have not shown enough concerned about sharing information,’ says Dr Banda, speaking at the Chitedza research station. Through this programme, he says, FARA has facilitated ‘a paradigm shift among researchers by offering a welcome window for putting their research up for scrutiny and discussion.

‘The rate of adoption of our technologies is low because most scientists are poor communicators. But if we share
information that should be in the public anywhere, it is he same as telling a good story because we are living in a different world now in which information is an asset.’ According to Dr Banda, the adoption rate of maize hybrids was below 30 percent until recently. But of late it has increased due to the subsidy programme as well as greater awareness. The adoption rate is now up to 50 per cent. Sorghum is grown in the low-lying Shire valley and in the highlands, where it is a popular snack. With climate change, sorghum is a viable cash and food crop.
The challenge is to find appropriate language to convey the information to farmers, many of whom cannot read
or write.

 

‘PSTAD can help us craft better approaches to be implemented at the village level to boost technology adoption, and subsistence agriculture is not really development,’ he says. ‘Agribusiness is the way to go. Almost all inputs – fertilizers and pesticides – are imported, except seeds. The seed is grown by multinational companies and the price is high, and that is one of the factors that affected production. Hence the need for the programme on seeds subsidy.’ Agriculture contributes 80 percent of Malawi’s GDP and employs over 90 percent of the population. Salima is known mostly for maize, cotton and red sorghum. Sweet red sorghum is grown mainly for cash; white
sorghum is consumed at home.

With a short rainy season, from December to March, the country is vulnerable to dry spells. Salima is perfect for sorghum growing and can survive low rainfall, unlike maize, says Martin Kausi, programme manager for the Salima Agricultural Development Division, who oversees the sorghum project involving 100 farmers.
Smallholder farmers have been trained on seed selection and improved farming methods. ‘Previously farmers had a mentality that you do not need to apply fertiliser to this crop, but the project introduced the idea, and farmers have benefitted from yields of 3000 kg per hectare compared to 500 kg per hectare,’ Kausi says. ‘With extra to sell, we have sought to impart negotiating skills to our farmers to deal with traders and companies for a fair price.’ Kausi adds that farmers have learned the importance of thinning their crop to ensure better yields. The project is the start of better farming prospects for farmers, if only it spreads throughout Malawi. He adds: ‘We should not say maize is our staple – let’s go for diversification and promote cash crops such as sorghum, cotton and rice apart from tobacco. In Salima we have less reliable rain, and we need to promote drought-tolerant crops where farmers are assured of harvesting something, even during a bad season. Sorghum offers that opportunity.’

Farmer Blinite Kalima, from Village 5 in Salima, says he built his house through earnings from sorghum. This year he is aiming to have more than a hectare under sorghum, and become a top sorghum grower for Chibuku Breweries. ‘I make traditional beer with part of my sorghum and sell it, and in addition I make sorghum flour for sale,’he says. ‘If we can tackle the issue of seed, I am convinced we will be better farmers and enjoy an even better lifestyle when we sell our sorghum.’

Daison Mafiyo, from Mkukhi 2 village, said storage was an issue because he often has to sell his maize crop first in order to have money to buy bags for the harvested sorghum. ‘I have made a good income from selling my sorghum and am planning to open a bank account so that I can save,’ says Mafiyo, who has used his earnings to buy goats and pay school fees.

Maxford Moloseni, Agricultural Extension Development Coordinator in the Chinguluwe EPA under the Salima district, echoes farmers under the Chinguluwe Green and Legume cooperative who have made financial and
knowledge gains through growing sorghum. ‘On an average each farmer who received 2 kg of seed which was enough for just 0.1 hectare realised about 36,000 kwacha after selling their crop – more than they would have got for maize,’ he says. The other phase of the PSTAD programme has been the promotion of open-pollinated maize (OPV) in the Mpenu EPA of Lilongwe district, 50 kilometres south of the city. MZ 721 is newly released, high-yielding maize with a potential yield of 6 tonnes per hectare in a country where most smallholder farmers barely harvest 2 tonnes of maize per hectare. About 100 farmers are participating in the programme with 0.2 hectares each. About 20% increase in yield has been recorded on farmers’ field (2.5 mt/ha to 3mt/ha) since the programme started in 2011.

Natan Jemulo, from Mzongo village outside Lilongwe, found that growing OPV maize boosted his harvest to 16 bags last season, up from 11. The father of 5 said the OPV was also easily ground into flour. ‘I have seen a big change and have also bought livestock, goats and chickens,’ Jemulo said. ‘If I have a bumper harvest, I will sell the surplus in the capital city and as a group we will convert our grain into flour for income.’ Enita Dayoni, from Chilima village, now prefers growing OPV which produces tastier flour, matures early and gives better yields. Her main challenge is currently accessing enough seed, something Edward Katunga takes seriously.
Katunga, Chief Agricultural Information Officer in the Department of Agricultural Extension Services, has responsibility for disseminating information on new technologies to farmers at grassroots level. Working with 200 farmers for maize and sorghum, he says demand for the programme means it will be extended in two new areas of Dova – a maize-growing region in the central part of Malawi – and to Balaka, in the southern sorghum-growing region.

‘The PSTAD programme has ensured that farmers access the new technologies we have released,’ says Katunga. ‘It was unheard of to put fertilizer to sorghum. Now farmers practise one plant per station and we now talk of 75 cm between ridges and 25 cm between plant stands. This has seen movement from 37,000 plants per hectare to over 50,000 plants per hectare in under a year, and that means more plants and higher yields for the farmer, making it easy to promote the technology.’ DONATA focal person Mzondwase Mgomezulu says the PSTAD programme has motivated farmers to grow more maize and sorghum. ‘The biggest lesson has been the training that imparted skills on farmers to do what is expected of them, and in this way deepened the trust between stakeholders,’ she said. ‘The programme is a model for empowering farmers because once they have been trained they are motivated to work without constant supervision.’

The financial independence of the smallholder farmer is the goal of the Malawi government’s push for agribusiness and the consolidation of market value chains. Noel Sangole, Coordinator of the Malawi Agriculture Partnership (MAP) working with the Netherlands-based International Centre for Development Oriented Research in Agriculture (ICRA) understands market value chains well. An ICRA alumnus, Sangole is a key partner in the PSTAD programme, backstopping IPTAs for maize and sorghum. ‘We wanted farmers to have a value chain approach by starting with the market, identifying the key players, what are the quality issues and how to bring the right partners aboard so that farmers can know the breakeven price and determine price based on production costs,’ says Sangole. ‘We have also shown farmers that we are bringing new technology to help them increase their production and that we can link them to the buyers, as with sorghum farmers and Chibuku brewery.’

Sangole says the value chain approach helps farmers map out key service providers and direct actors, and understand the challenges at each point in the chain, and plan adequate responses to them: ‘We think a farmer can gain by producing more from a unit area.
Why should farmers lag behind when there is the potential that the same area they are cultivating can produce three tonnes instead of one tonne?’ Chibuku Malawi Breweries, a subsidiary of SABMiller, has partnered with the PSTAD programme to buy red sorghum from farmers around Malawi. Sorghum constitutes a major ingredient in brewing, and red sorghum is preferred because it gives a brown colour to the traditional commercial beer enjoyed mostly by low income earners.

Operations Manager for Chibuku Lilongwe, Barter Chunga, believes that with the right support there is no reason why smallholder farmers in Malawi should not supply the bulk of the 1.5 million kgs of red sorghum required by the brewery. Half of this is currently imported. Working with experts in the Ministry of Agriculture, Chibuku has signed contracts with farmers to supply sorghum of the best quality.
‘We believe if our farmers really look after their crop, they can get up to three tonnes per hectare,’ says Chunga. ‘Our aim is for farmers to gain financially and for us to get the best sorghum. This must be a win-win situation:we do not have to import sorghum and money stays in the country.’ Chibuku is also importing sorghum seed from Zimbabwe; something it hopes will not be necessary when local production is boosted.
Sipriano Wiscot, a farmer from Masotudzu village in the Mpenu EPA, has improved his skills as a result of the PSTAD programme. He has increased his yield of maize, beans and groundnuts, and has also gone into livestock.
Practising pit planting, composting and mulching has made a big difference in his farming, explains Wiscot, who last year harvested 15 bags of maize which would last him until the next harvest season in April. Grace Thengezu has been farming maize for the last 8 years in addition to beans and groundnuts. But switching to OPV last year, she got 18 bags of maize from 0.8 of a hectare. Previously she had harvested 10 bags. For Namalezo Kamingi, of Chakwawa village, growing maize secures the family food needs. When there is a bumper crop, he sells the excess to raise income. For him switching from planting three seeds per stand to one has improved his yields. Last season he got 12 bagsof maize compared to ten in the previous year. ‘I need skills in legume production and livestock keeping so that I can improve our food security as I believe applying better techniques gives more yields,’ says Kamingi.
The food success of other farmers has made an impression on those who have not adopted OPV, like Falisi Baluki, a farmer in Chimphonongo village. ‘I saw the gains made by other farmers in our group and this season I am planting OPV. I would like to realise the same harvests as my neighbours and that is why I have signed up. I plant soy bean, groundnuts and maize.’
According to Paul Fatch, Extension Methodology and Systems (Training) Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, ensuring that information from researchers reaches farmers and vice versa is a key change that has been boosted by the PSTAD programme. Demonstration plots have been used to teach farmers the whole process from ‘seed to seed’. ‘We have noted with demonstrations in Africa that people go on and appreciate the good practices, but it ends there and there is no guarantee that they will be applied,’ says Fatch, who is also a member of the Malawi Forum for Advisory Services (MFAAS). ‘PSTAD is creating a platform for the marketing of agricultural produce and reducing the market chain of middlemen, and the prospect of money brings in young people as, in Malawi, we have family farming. Our aim is to move sorghum from a food crop to a commercial crop, and that is where gender issues come in.’

Farming is not complete without a specific focus on the major food producers: women. While the PSTAD programme has ensured that smallholder farmers have access to new technology and practices like compost
manure-making and pit planting, more should be done for women farmers.
‘More women should be involved in this programme because in Malawi 80 percent of farmers are women and we want more to practise improved technologies in agriculture,’ says Evelyn Chima, the Principal Agrarian Extension Officer responsible for women’s programmes in the Lilongwe Agricultural Development Division. ‘Government should bring in more technologies to reach female farmers. We forget that women have their own challenges such as cultural beliefs and come second after men,’ says Chima. ‘So even if you bring any new technology you find that it is the men who grab it, and it is usually difficult for them to pass it to women. Yet women are the custodians of our farming technologies and we want policies to target women farmers. Planting a hectare or an acre of land means she still has to forgo some of her responsibilities at home.’ The success of the programme in its initial year has seen farmers eagerly enlisting in the next phase because of the benefits, some of which are immediate while others will take time to realise.

According to Ken Tindwa, Agricultural Extension Coordinator for Mpenu EPA, ‘I expect farmers to change their practices. We hope they can have a mindset of opening farmers’ own accounts so that they are able to source their own inputs and implement better farming practises like minimum labour and minimum use of land, rather than a lot land for a low harvest.’ World Vision Lilongwe, impressed with the concept of the PSTAD programme, has come aboard as one of the project partners by promoting seed production among smallholders and linking them to commercial suppliers of seed. ‘Seed production on its own is not enough,’ says Esau Mwendo Phiri, a food-security manager at World Vision in Lilongwe. ‘We need information dissemination to the farming communities and working with DONATA in the Department of Agricultural Extension Services (DAES) has enabled our front-line staff to learn more methodologies of extension.’

Phiri said World Vision, as a partner to the PSTAD programme, is working with 350 farmers in 2 cooperatives who produce seed: 85 tonnes of seed sorghum has been produced and 20 tonnes of maize seed. ‘Through the PSTAD programme we have brought technology and services to farmers’ doorsteps that have enhanced their livelihoods,’ said Phiri. ‘We are now able to access and share information from the eRAILS website.’