The Rwanda Agriculture Board is developing a plan to revive its research and seed testing stations and related infrastructure as part of efforts to improve its performance.
More than 40 agriculture extension and research stations spread across the country, formerly run by Rwanda Agricultural Research Institute (ISAR) and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), dormant, leading to poor service delivery. Both RADA and ISAR were merged to form RAB in 2010.
While some have remained dormant over many years others are reportedly sub-optimally used.
“Most of these facilities have been deserted, and it is not good for our image as an institution mandated to champion the agriculture sector development,” said Dr Mark Cyubahiro Bagabe, RAB director general.
“We are seeking to operationalise all the stations and put them at the core of our services. We expect our proposals for reform to get Cabinet approval in the near future. We want to deploy staff back to the stations where they will be closer to the farmers who need their services,” he added.
According to Dr Bagabe, dormancy of the stations for so many years had resulted in dependence on imported seeds as research on new seed varieties and production of seeds locally was hampered.
Reliance on imported seeds has also been cited as not only exposing the country to a huge import bill — to the detriment of investment in local seed production and research — but also affect service to farmers.
RAB has decried cases of late planting and damage to seeds suffered by farmers due largely to import traps that result in late seed delivery and imperfections.
Official figures show importing hybrid maize, wheat and soybean seeds alone cost government close to Rwf5.5 billion annually, more than double the budget of Rwf1.9 billion that was allocated to research this year.
Revamping the stations is, according to RAB officials, part of an extended plan to reform the institution that has on several occasions come under criticism for failing to guarantee value for money and good service delivery in a number of projects that are relevant to achieving the agriculture sector transformation agenda.
While appearing before Parliament’s Public Account Committee recently over the 2015/16 Auditor General Report, which raised serious inefficiencies in implementation of key programmes, Dr Bagabe and Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources Jean Claude Kayitsinga described revamp of research and extension stations as a way to put resources where they are needed most and devolve currently centralised services to be able to respond to the most urgent needs of the farmers.
Particularly, Dr Bagabe wants the stations to be at the centre of providing solutions to shortage of quality disease-resistant seeds varieties as well as livestock species, and help timely address crop and animal pests.
Dr Bagabe told Rwanda Today Rwf1.8 billion was set aside for operationalisation of more than 14 stations this year while the rest including over 30 satellite stations would be worked on gradually owing to budget constraints.
“We are starting with 14 main stations, but more will be getting operationalised with time as we get funding,” he said.