Rwanda: Farmers balk at government-mandated hybrid maize (Global Press Journal)

| September 24, 2018

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In the western swath of this fertile country, about 20 kilometres from the capital, Kigali, there’s a wide valley filled with maize fields. Water-filled ditches run along the edges of each field.

Here, organic farming was once the only practice farmers knew. Now they treat their crops with chemical fertilizers.

Fields here have been earmarked by the government to grow new, hybrid maize varieties, via the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources and the Rwanda Agriculture Board.

The government has introduced a program on hybrid maize, but some farmers are pushing back. Farmers say the new varieties mean more work and waves of monitoring visits from the government.

Farmer Immaculée Bamporineza says: “I don’t think this new seed species is the best. We’ve applied fertilizers twice since it has been seeded two months ago, but already insects have stormed them. And yet the seeds we used to grow weren’t expensive, and natural fertilizers were always available.”

The government program began three years ago, and aimed to get all the nation’s maize and soybean farmers to grow hybrid varieties in order to reduce Rwanda’s dependence on imports.

Currently, the government spends about 5.5 billion Rwandan francs ($6.24 million US) per year on imported maize, wheat, and soybean seeds, says Cyprien Bazimaziki, an agronomist who works on the program. The Rwandan government hopes to produce at least 70% of its own seeds by 2021, he adds.

Rwanda imports more food than it exports, and the gap between imports and exports is growing. But a program to boost maize production in Malawi, introduced in 2005 by Malawi’s government, suggests that it’s possible to reverse that trend. Malawi’s maize production doubled by 2006 and nearly tripled by 2007. The program involved using hybrid maize seeds, which have been shown to yield 10 to 25% more than non-hybrid seeds.

But Rwandan farmers say the program is forcing them to live under the government’s thumb. Officials monitor farmers’ fields to make sure farmers are using the hybrid seeds. Farmers in the designated area who decline to take part in the program are in danger of losing their fields, although Mr. Bazimaziki says that no fields have been confiscated. The new varieties also require modern farming methods, including chemical fertilizers.

Soltine Nyiramahirwe is Mrs. Bamporineza’s daughter. She says the government’s requirement to grow only hybrid seeds isn’t realistic: “They forget that birds can drop other varieties of seeds in our fields.”

Some farmers hold out hope that the program will ultimately benefit them.

The government, which has always been a major buyer of locally-grown maize, pays a higher price for hybrid maize grown in the designated area, says Joseph Nkurunziza, a farmer who is also one of the program’s coordinators.

Mr. Nkurunziza says the regular price for a kilogram of maize is 150 to 200 francs (17 to 23 US cents). The Rwanda Agriculture Board pays 600 francs (68 cents) per kilogram for the hybrid maize.

Mr. Bazimaziki says that the maize being grown in the program is expected to be distributed across the country.

He adds, “It’s too early for the impact to rise to the surface, but, little by little, people will get to understand as this program will continue and be extended to other staple crops.”

This story was adapted from an article titled, “Hybrid Maize Seeds, Required by the Government, Frustrate Rwandan Farmers,” written by Janviere Uwimana for the Global Press Journal. To read the original article, go to:

Buyers examine seeds at a market in eastern Rwanda. Credit: Global Press Journal