Improved Agricultural Practices for Community & Economic Development!

Project justification:  About 90% of Rwanda’s population engages in agriculture (primarily subsistence farming), and agriculture contributes to about 46% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  Nevertheless, a significant percentage of the population still lives below the poverty line.  Despite fertile soil and adequate rain, food production does not keep pace with demand (CIA World Factbook, 2013).  The climate of Rwanda is temperate with two rainy seasons (February to April, November to January).

Despite the fertile landscape, malnutrition and food insecurity remain major concerns for the Rwandan people.  According to the World Food Program (2012), 51% of households reported some type of difficulty accessing food and 43% of children age 6 months to 5 years old, suffered from chronic malnutrition (stunting) in 2012.

Background:  Following a focus group with diverse group of community stakeholders it was determined that sustainable and feasible procedures for increasing Irish potato yields were needed to improve production and livelihoods in the farming community. The Irish Potato is an important food and cash crop for the area.  It has a short cropping cycle and large production per area and time.  In 2009, the yield average was around 10 tons per hectare, which was well below the possible yield of 25 tons per hectare.  The yield gap was attributed to use of low quality seed potatoes, poor disease management, and insufficient soil fertility management.

It was further determined that there was a critical need for training to advance agricultural practices, especially regarding positive seed selection as a means to improve disease management.  Once the farmers are trained on positive seed  selection, the next step determined by the same stakeholders from the original focus group was that a Diffused Light Storehouse (DLS) was needed for sprouting clean potato seed for planting.  A DLS is a low cost method of storing seed potatoes, which has been found to extend their storage life and improve their productivity.  A DLS uses indirect natural light rather than low temperatures to control excessive sprout growth and decrease pests and pathogens associated with storage losses.

The 1st agricultural training and DLS co-op was formed in 2010 (training and a few of the co-op members).
Next came the DLS for storing potatoes.
An assessment of the 1st DLS was done by a team from Colorado University by speaking directly to the project participants and government officials. Overall, the government, farmers and community members provided extremely positive feedback on the DLS and the positive seed selection training. This group also noted the need for additional DLS's to service the entire community

General findings: Through the training and the DLS this project has made significant economic gains by raising the people's standard of living through providing a more stable source of income. The farmers are able to go beyond just feeding their families, they are able to access the open market because of larger productions.

Direct Impact:
Agricultural Productivity - "Buying seeds from the co-op doubled my yield." "12 out of 14 reported that the training improved their ability to select a clean seed very much." Another said, "I used to plant 100kg & get 400 kg back, but now he plants 50kg and get 1 ton back, allowing for other crops to be grown." Infracture - One farmer reflected, "Before I had no electricity and my house was in bad shape. I now have electricity and built a new home." Another said, "I have been able to improve my home. We put a water tank and an irrigation system. I can now pay school fees for my kids." Household Economics - Farmers reported significant increases in income from higher yields & better quality potatoes. The farmers indicated a positive impact on economic stability. They also reported that their access to additional markets improved very much. Education - One farmer responded, "I have six children and are now able to send four of them to school and I am more confident in my ability to care for my children." Diet - Many responded that they were confident in their ability to feed their family. One farmers stated, "I've been able to buy school notebooks & uniforms for my kids. They also east much better." Other Indirect Impacts - Farmers reported that the DLS contributed to nearby development. The area was void of retail, electricity, or community space, but now is home to nine shops and after members petitioned the government for the installment of electricity they were successful.

The future: We are now working on our second "Improved Agricultural Practices and Community & Economic" project funded by the Rotary Club of Boulder Valley.

Four more are needed. The cost for each one is $14,000.00.