Farmers decry ‘tough’ officials

Friday March 1 2013

By Edmund Kagire Rwanda Today

The government has dismissed claims that local leaders are violating the rights of subsistence farmers by uprooting crops grown in areas set aside for special agricultural projects.

Political opposition faction PS Imberakuri has warned that citizens of Kayonza District, Eastern Province, are at risk of hunger after what they described as ‘overzealous local leaders’ uprooting crops grown in areas designated for specific crops under the Crop Intensification Programme.

It is not the first time opposition groups are raising the red flag over the programme, which is implemented alongside the Land Consolidation Programme.

Under the two highly acclaimed programmes credited with transforming agriculture in Rwanda, farmers merge land and grow a single crop depending on the area’s zoning as the government provides extension and advisory services.

The programmes are responsible for raising the country’s food security and productivity, but not without concerns. Opposition groups allege that farmers are forced to grow particular crops while the undesired ones are uprooted to pave way for the approved ones.

Heavy-handed methods

According to Alexis Bakunzibake, the secretary-general of the breakaway group PS Imberakuri, the implementation of the ambitious projects have left some citizens reeling from the heavy-handed methods of local leaders.

The opposition group particularly cited the Land Husbandry, Water Harvesting and Hillside Irrigation (LWH) project run by the Ministry of Agriculture in the province, which merges crop intensification and hillside irrigation projects.

“We visited several sectors in Kayonza District where the LWH programme is being implemented and talked to concerned citizens who had their plants uprooted by local leaders because they planted them in areas zoned out for maize,” Mr Bakunzibaka told Rwanda Today.

Likely to result in hunger

“Residents lost acres of banana plantations, cassava, sorghum and coffee, which were uprooted because they were ‘illegally’ planted in areas designated for maize.”

He added that the act is likely to result in hunger in a few months.
“They were not compensated. The local leaders say they were following ‘orders from above’. Some of these crops are traditional and dear in the Rwandan society and therefore stopping people from completely growing them is denying them their right.”

However, the Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources, Dr Agnes Kalibata, dismissed the criticism as misguided and one-sided, accusing the opposition group of “mixing up issues” and ignoring the benefits of the LWH.

Though confirming that some crops were uprooted to pave way for the project, Dr Kalibata told Rwanda Today that it was done in agreement with the residents. She said: “For the project to be implemented properly, you don’t mix up crops.

“Clearance is done to pave way for the specific crop being grown that season. You cannot have cassava plants here, a few banana trees here and then maize.

“The farmers agree on the key commodity to be grown for a particular season because that is how irrigation schemes operate elsewhere.”

Saying the project has paid off, she cited Karongi District, one of the most infertile and arid districts in Rwanda, where the pilot LWH project was implemented.

“This is a project that has changed lives. People are paid for utilising their land and the key reasons why the World Bank agreed to finance the project is because we showed them how it will work from bottom up, benefiting ordinary citizens and giving them jobs.”

Dr Kalibata said that the project has boosted the country’s food security by increasing output, particularly in districts which were previously affected by dry spells.