As a country, Rwanda is very vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Agriculture, an industry responsible for a third of Rwanda’s GDP, is now a highly threatened sector. In recent years, the threats posed by climate change, environmental degradation and food insecurity in Rwanda have become obvious to all. Rural families now need practical solutions to the challenges of low quality soils, rain scarcity and poor yields. Many small-scale farmers in the Eastern province, particularly in Bugesera District, are still using traditional methods to cultivate their fields. They dig up a field and then make mounds or ridges on which to plant their crops despite the rising frequency of drought, which renders yields low and makes crop performance consistently poor when using this method.
In 2018, Nature Rwanda launched a two year conservation farming project aimed at giving small-scale farmers an opportunity to achieve better livelihoods in the face of climate change. Conservation farming of very simple methods; it includes ending the burning of crop residue after harvest, reducing soil disturbance during land preparation and rotating crops. Additionally, it includes leaving chemical fertilizer behind and instead increasing reliance whenever possible on organic sources such as compost and reduced disturbance of the soil during land preparation, no burning of crop residues after harvest, crop rotation, and reliance whenever possible on organic sources like compost and livestock manure for crop nutrients. Funded by the Global Environment Facility Small Grant Program, this project reused 8ha of abandoned land in Ngarama Village and directly engaged 75 households of small holder farmers. After a series of indoor and field trainings, beneficiaries expanded the lessons learnt to an additional 85 households. Generally, 17 ha now use conservation farming practices, involving 160 households and bringing a direct impact to 385 women, 262 men, and 364 children.
Throughout the implementation period of March 2018 to January 2020, we have seen a great success. Not only this, but community members also describe the project’s lasting impact as leading them to find sustainable solutions in their quest for food security.
Agnes NYIRAHAKIZIMANA, an agronomist at Gicaca cell (project site), said that agriculture in Musenyi is negatively impacted by bad weather and poor farming techniques. Specifically, “Local administration is always struggling to find the best adaptive method to help small holder farmers to improve their farming practices and agro-outputs. Today, the number of farmers in Gicaca village who are adopting domesticating conservation farming is increasing. This is a lesson learnt from the beneficiaries who worked with Nature Rwanda on this project. Conservation farming was identified as a sustainable approach to increase the annual food produce with minimum agro inputs, and it is practical even during the seasons with below average rainfall. The constructed community seedbank is now helping farmers to save quality seed for the next coming cropping seasons, which steps into the national agriculture policy agendas. The green water tank constructed is a reference point in our community for minimizing waste by Reuse and Recycle approach. It is also helping us in water harvesting and water storage during prolonged drought. We appreciate the work done. It is bringing lasting impacts; from this project we are witnessing a huge impact on the target poor families, because they can now meet the household food needs and sell the remaining crops as source of income“
“This project boosted my life to another level and brought hope for the future”, said UWAMBAJIMANA Angelique, the representative of DUTERIMBERE farmers’ group. “I am a woman and a mother to six children. Since my childhood, agriculture was my only source of income; I was always challenged by securing enough food and sustaining livelihoods of my family due to the lack of rain that caused crop failures in almost every cropping season! Therefore, I was forced to depend on government aid through VUP until 2018 when I joined the project of Nature Rwanda as one of the beneficiaries under the conservation farming project. Today I have a story to tell, my crop production boosted at a rate of 60%. On my small plot of 25mX30m, I have produced maize, beans, cabbage and onions. Apart from producing food for my family, up to now, I have generated more than one million Rwandan francs from my current farming practices. This helped me to cover other household expenses such as health insurance and school fees for my children, and I am now a member of one of the local women saving cooperatives! In addition, there were always disputes in our family as a result of limited funds for satisfying household needs, but today everyone in family has peace of mind and we are sharing our happy moment in peace.”
Macyenga, a member of DUTERIMBERE farmers’ group said: “From the start I thought I could not produce food in the face of insufficient rain, but Nature Rwanda has proved me wrong! From the training I attended, I developed a deeper commitment to investing my time and energy in conservation farming by adopting composting, minimum tillage, and mulching. It has now been one year since the project was completed, and confidently as people who benefited from the project, we keep the same spirit and spread the best practices to other community members. On average, I have personally earned 435, 000 RWF from the food produce apart from what was consumed at home. We are experiencing successful strategies as small holder farmers to adapt to challenging weather conditions. This is the greatest experience I have ever seen”.