Farmers in Rwanda predict poor yields as a result of an unusually dry spell #AfricaClimateCrisis

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Farmers in the Eastern Province are suffering from an unexpected dry spell during a season when rains are usually plentiful.

The unexpected dry period had been forecasted by the weathermen in August when they released the rainfall seasonal projection for September to December 2021.

According to Evariste Tugirinshuti, president of the Eastern and Southern Province Maize Farmers’ Cooperatives Federation, extended dry spells might lower maize production by 40 to 50 percent.

“The season is not good at all. Some maize farmers have not yet planted because they did not get rain. Others planted but seeds never germinated and while some seeds germinated they immediately dried up due to lack of rains,” he said.

Kirehe, Bugesera and Kayonza districts, he said, are the worst hit by the prolonged dry spell.

Particularly, Kirehe District is the worst affected, he added.

Tugirinshuti leads a cooperative that groups together some 1,500 maize farmers, majority of whom don’t have irrigation facilities and thus entirely rely on rain.

“Irrigation is only carried out near Akagera River and areas with valley dams,” he noted.

In order to cushion themselves from effects, some farmers are resorting to planting sweet potatoes, which are relatively drought resistant.

“On my side, I have planted maize on three hectares, which are likely to be stunted if I do nothing. Despite planning to irrigate one hectare the rest could mean losses,” he said.

On average hectare produces 4.5 tonnes of maize per season.

Gahiga Gashumbam, the President of Nyagatare Dairy Farmers Union, told this paper that the prolonged dry spell has reduced milk production due to a reduction in animal feeds.

“We were supposed to supply 90,000 litres of milk processing plants per day, but we are only supplying 40,000 litres,” he said, adding that some cows have died.

According to officials, Eastern Province has 95 sectors and 25 of them are bound to witness prolonged dry spells.

Rwf1.2 billion interventions

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources, a new campaign was launched on Monday, Nov. 15, targeting to provide small irrigation schemes to drought-prone areas.

The Rwf1.2 billion launched is in addition to another Rwf1 billion that was earmarked for mitigating the effects of rainfall shortage in the current agricultural season 2022A in Eastern Province.

A community work, on Monday, to irrigate some 450-hectare pieces of land with maize, soybeans, and beans near water bodies targeted seven districts namely Bugesera, Gatsibo, Kayonza, Kirehe, Ngoma, Nyagatare and Rwamagana.

Audace Hirwa, Director of Documentation, Publication, Communication and Technology Promotion Unit at RAB says that preliminary assessment shows that 37,000 hectares need urgent irrigation intervention to help farmers offset potential losses.

Over 10,000 farmers could be affected by unusual dry spells as hundreds of cows have died in Gatsibo, Kayonza and Nyagatare Districts alone if no urgent action is brought on board, according to reports.

Gérardine Mukeshimana, the Minister for Agriculture and Animals Resources, urged farmers to plant drought-resistant crops and short-period growing crops.

“We are working with local leaders to identify farmers who may need support including food relief. It is not the first time we are witnessing a dry spell,” she said.

Scientists have said that the unusual dry spells are being caused by climate change as the number of rainy days in Rwanda has declined by between 35 and 45 days per year since 1971.

In August 2021, the Rwanda Meteorology Agency warned that parts of Eastern and Southern provinces would likely face unusual dry spells similar to those that befell the country in 2016, 2010 and 1996.

The 2016 dry spell period was Rwanda’s longest drought in six decades and affected food security.

During that year, more than 47,300 households with over 230,000 people were affected by drought.

Kayonza, Nyagatare and Kirehe districts in the Eastern Province were the most affected.

At the time, drought destroyed 16,119 hectares of crops in Kayonza District, 6,619 hectares in Nyagatare District and 750 hectares in Kirehe District.

Government targets to irrigate 102,284 hectares by 2024 from the 63,000 hectares which are currently under irrigation in order to reduce agriculture dependency on rainfall.

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