In the previous blog post, I wrote how getting into the value-add side of agri-business in Rwanda was not only a major step towards community growth and development but, also a great place for potential investors to consider putting their energies in to. However, there were a number of challenges that I pointed out that could hinder this progress. To recap:
- Low quality produce as most production is intended for own family consumption hence local farmers do not have strong incentives to increase quality.
- Lack of business skills and entrepreneurship.
- The rural road infrastructure and transport is not yet fully developed to enable the farmer to promptly get farm input and also transport the farm produce to the market.
- There is lack of sustainable market and post-harvest management for the small scale farmers in Rwanda.
- Limited capital to develop the farms and local farmers also do not have easy access to funding from commercial banks.
- The latest market information is not readily available to the small scale farmers and this results in the farmers selling at cheap price in order to avoid spoilage of agricultural products.
- Shortage of fertile land
- Lack of knowledge about modern farming methods including irrigation.
- Lack of necessary equipment to use on the farm during planting, harvesting and value addition.
- Lack of adequate supporting infrastructure to the sector like cold rooms, advisory services to the small farmers and mechanism for the small farmers to pull resources.
Thinking and researching through these challenges, led me to come across ways that would not only promote growth and profit in farm yields, but also produce quality crops.
Why this focus? If you think of the whole agricultural chain as a recipe, then the basic ingredients are the farm produce. If we can increase yield in order to have quality produce coming out of the farms, that will translate to quality value-added products being produced and platforms such as Kigali Farmers’ And Artisans’ Market having access to superior #madeinrwanda products to showcase to consumers.
What are these 13 ways?
Various research studies have been carried out and demonstration and actual farms practised these methods globally, that have proved these 13 methods, collectively used, see an overall improvement in quality and consistency of production of fruits and vegetables. The solutions could come from the Rwandan Government but, as a potential investor, you could look at them as ways you could start an agri-business with their support and to help those who are unable to fund, understand or implement these solutions.
- Boost irrigation With the growing effects of climate change on weather patterns, more irrigation will be needed. Average yields in irrigated farms are 90% higher than those of nearby rain-fed farms.
Balton CP Rwanda is an example of a business bringing knowledge, know how, high quality inputs and modern technologies to Rwanda’s farmers. Learn more about them here https://www.baltoncp.com/rwanda/
2. Develop high-yield crops Increased research into plant breeding, which takes into account the unique soil types of Rwanda, is a major requirement. An organisation that has really taken this and run with it is FAIM Africa. Founded in 2011 by Steve and Cheryl Jones along with a small investment group and based in Kigali, Rwanda, FAIM (Forestry and Agricultural Investment Management) is the first tissue culture lab and plant propagation nursery of its kind in Africa producing clean, disease free planting materials for the farmers in Rwanda and surrounding countries.FAIM Africa is tackling the challenges of providing clean plants and seeds as well as providing the Rwandan farmers with the knowledge and assistance in successful agronomy practices that will dramatically increase plant productivity reducing poverty and addressing food security in Rwanda. Learn more about them here www.faim.co
3. Increase the use of fertilizers As soil fertility deteriorates, fertilizer use must increase. The Rwandan Government needs to ensure the right type of fertilizers are available at the right price, and at the right times. Fertilizer education lessens the environmental impact and an analysis of such training programs in East Africa found they boosted average incomes by 61%. Cultivating your soil with fertilizers is an important part of maintaining optimal soil conditions for crops on your farmland. Fertilizing your crop at the time of seeding can help provide the seeds with essential nutrients like potassium, phosphorous, and calcium. The root-zone at the base of your crops is the most important area to facilitate growth so your crop can thrive and produce an impressive yield.
4. Improve market access, regulations, and governance Improving rural infrastructure such as roads is crucial to raising productivity through reductions in shipping costs and the loss of perishable produce. Meanwhile, providing better incentives to farmers, including reductions in food subsidies, could raise agricultural output by nearly 5%.
One could also follow the example of Kigali Farms – A local social enterprise I worked for, that had a very supportive buy back scheme. They are one of the biggest producers of mushrooms in East Africa and in the past, they would sell mushroom substrate to rural farmers at a reduced price, train them on how to grow quality mushrooms and when it was time for harvesting, they would buy back the mushrooms at an agreed price. Learn more about them here www.kigalifarms.com
5. Make better use of information technology Information technology can support better crop, fertilizer and pesticide selection. It also improves land and water management, provides access to weather information, and connects farmers to sources of credit. Simply giving farmers information about crop prices in different markets has increased their bargaining power. E-soko, a provider of a mobile crop information services in Rwanda, estimates they can boost incomes by 10-30%. Learn more about them here http://www.esoko.gov.rw/
6. Plant Early, Plant EffectivelyChoosing the right time to plant is often the most important part of planting. The best strategy to use to increase yields is: if your soil is ready, start planting. There are tests you can perform on your soil to see if it is ready for planting. Today’s hybrid seeds create a more sustainable product, but knowing if your field is ready for early planting is just as important. Planting early can result in increased yields by taking advantage of unexpectedly early favorable soil conditions.
7.Practice Seasonal Soil Rotation When you are planting season-by-season, it is important to understand how planting recurring crops can affect your overall yield. Planting crops in consecutive years has been proven to be less effective for optimal yields. This means that crop-on-crop planting should only be considered when your soil conditions are strong enough, or your land mass is limited. If you don’t have access to either, you may need to consider planting alternative crops in alternating years. Planting an alternating crop helps to diversify the demands on your soil. This results in crops that not only yield more, but continually produce year in and year out.
8. Know The Yield Potential It is not just enough to plan your seeds and hope for the best, you should always be sure to understand your field’s growth potential. Understanding the kind of crops you’re planting, and the kinds of seeds you are using, is important when assessing yield potential. Crop producers typically have an estimated idea of the yield potential of their seeds. Understanding this will help manage not only your expectations, but whether or not your yield potential is matching your actual production.
9. Always Scout Your FieldsThe most sage advice you can receive about how to increase crop yields is by scouting your fields on foot. This will give you a chance to assess soil conditions, notice any weeds cropping up, and check that your crops are growing healthily. This is especially true for ‘telephone farmers’ – farmers that are rarely in the field and rely on the use of telephone and a farm hand to keep track of crop growth. There is a lot you can miss when you are passing by your crops at high speeds or when you aren’t there to monitor growth so, hitting the ground and examining your crops is an important step towards a stronger crop yield.
10. Ensure Proper Water Drainage Water management is essential to crop survival and maximizing your crop’s yield potential. It’s important to ensure your crop is getting enough water, but also that they aren’t being over-watered. Developing a drainage system in your crops can help prevent water logging and salinization in your soil, both of which can stifle growth and production.
11.Test Your Soil
Soil testing should be on your to do list right from the get-go, because your soil and its needs will directly influence the growth of your crops. Examining the phosphorus, potassium, and fertilization levels will give you insight into how to handle your crops. It will also let you know when proper soil conditions are forming, such as the optimal density and right amount of nutrients, so you are ready to start planting.
12. Weed Early and Often Weeds are not just the enemy of front lawns and golf courses, they can also compromise your farmland. Weeds are invasive, and siphon nutrients away from the crops you are trying to grow. Weeds always need to be dealt with as early and often as possible. Scouting your fields gives you the opportunity to see if any weeds are cropping up — and putting a stop to them before the problem can get out of hand.
13.Seed QualityHaving quality seeds is the basis for increasing crop yields. Whether you are looking into increasing your crop yields, or maximizing your overall agricultural productivity, you need to consider the strength of your seeds. Using hybrid seeds that are naturally inclined to grow faster, stronger, and with greater efficiency is pivotal to the success of your crops. Non-GMO seeds combine sustainability and cost seamlessly, which accounts for both quality and cost.Crop yields can be as complex as they are important for your farm. Learning how to increase agricultural productivity is always on a farmer’s mind. These tips will provide you with a strong start so you are able to begin putting them into practice, and start maximizing crop yields on your farm.
The author, Flo is the founder of Kigali Farmers’ And Artisans’ Market and is extremely passionate about community building focusing on the youth, women and PLWD running SMEs, micro and home industries.