Nelly Bassily | June 21, 2010
Faustin farms 20 hectares of land in the Rwasave valley of southern Rwanda. “I tried to get a loan to raise cows,” he says, “… but it was in vain. I am determined to continue growing fodder.”
For some Rwandan farmers, it is now more profitable to grow animal fodder than raise livestock or grow food crops. Faustin grows fodder, which he sells to neighbouring farmers. Munyurangabo Lawrence is his main customer. He buys enough to feed his 12 Friesian cows.
In 2007, the government announced that farmers who keep imported cattle breeds must have permanent stalls for their animals. This means that it is not cost-effective to raise a small number of cows. So some small-scale farmers grow fodder instead. Fodder prices are good and the market is guaranteed.
Raising imported cattle breeds is expensive. They require clean housing, veterinary drugs, and a good balance of grass and feed concentrates. All this costs around 10 American dollars per day. John Muzima is a farmer from Nyamagabe. He says that in addition, “The permanent housing requires a workforce that we do not have. The children are in school, while the parents are working in the fields.”
Mr. Muzima explains that paying someone to guard the cows costs around 20 American dollars a month. So he has invested in growing fodder. From a piece of land 20 metres by 30 metres, he earns 20 dollars each time he cuts the fodder. He can do this seven times a year.
Along the road from Kigali to Kibungo, you can see fodder crops growing on many of the hillsides. It is the same in the southern highlands. Dr. Sylvain Habimana represents RARDA, the national livestock breeding institute. He says that RARDA will promote mucuna (Mucuna pruriens) as a fodder crop this season. Mucuna gives farmers a double advantage. It helps improve soil fertility and protects against soil erosion.
Fodder markets are guaranteed for now. In 2004, there were 37,000 cows in Rwanda.. By 2009, the number had jumped to more than one and a quarter million.
Growing fodder is good business for farmers. As food crops get low prices in the market, more farmers are replacing food crops with fodder. For some, this is cause for concern. Dr. Zimulinda, who represents RARDA in the Eastern Province, says, “We must still cultivate for survival, not only for animals. Otherwise, what would we eat? Imported products?”