The Rwandan government plans to introduce new improved seed varieties after successful implementation of local research as it seeks to phase out imported seed input for major staple crops.
Currently, the country spends about Rwf5.5 billion ($6.4 million) annually on seed imports for hybrid maize, wheat and soybean.
Officials from the agriculture ministry say investments in building the capacity of local seed research have yielded results and at least two to four improved seed varieties of major imported crops have been approved to proceed for multiplication. Seed multiplication allows for commercial spread of improved varieties.
“We have the quality wheat seed varieties needed in the market, and the volume of seeds we import has as a result reduced significantly this year.
From the research, we have three seed varieties for soybean, and hybrid maize under cultivation and a few in multiplication,” said Agriculture Minister Gerardine Mukeshimana.
“We believe we can reduce the import bill in two to three years,” said Dr Mukeshimana.
Over the past four years of the third Strategic Plan for the Transformation of Agriculture (PSTA), the country has been spending a huge amount on imported seeds.
This hindered investments in local seed production and research, which resulted in losses for farmers largely due to delivery delays and imperfections.
The urgent need to boost crop productivity has seen the amount allocated to research over the past two years more than double due to increasing costs of importing hybrid maize, wheat and soybean seeds.
Dr Mukeshimana said that local research was wanting and the high-yield hybrid technology for maize seeds was not available by the time the country embarked on the Crop Intensification Programme.
However, the government has drawn up a roadmap placing research and technologies at the focal point in order to deliver locally-adapted inputs and specifically locally-produced seed varieties, multiplication and distribution systems.
The minister said the government was making sure that research results in seed varieties that are of high quality, with the highest yield per hectare as well as adaptability and resilience.
Initially, the focus had been put on priority crops like Irish potatoes, cassava, banana and beans and these seed varieties were released to farmers pending development of wheat, maize, and soybean seed varieties.
Wheat growers told Rwanda Today that they were carrying out multiplication of the EN161 variety commonly known as Kibatsi, and it could soon be cultivated as an alternative to Musama and Njoro varieties.
“The EN161 seed variety is the preferred choice for processors because it has early maturity and is less vulnerable to wind and rains,” said Simon Mutangana, chairman of the federation of wheat growers’ co-operatives.
Based on the performance of the 2017 agriculture season, the country cultivates maize on 345,752ha; soybean on 23,358ha while wheat is cultivated on 50,073ha.
This translates in tonnes of seeds worth billions of Rwandan francs imported to the country every year.
The country cultivates beans on 739,381ha, Irish potatoes on 122,360ha and cassava on 67,663ha. A large portion of these seeds are developed locally.
There aren’t exact figures available to show the impact the introduction of new seed varieties has had on reducing the volume of imported seeds, and subsequent reduction on the import bill.
However, officials from the agriculture ministry said it may take time for the impact to be visible, as some agriculture inputs like fertiliser are based on raw materials, which the country doesn’t have; while market players such as processors still took affordability into consideration while sourcing for their produce.
Agriculture ministry officials say creating an enabling environment is the way to encourage not only the development of a privately-driven seeds sector, but also to attract diverse fertiliser products and technologies suitable for the country’s different agro-climatic zones.
These recommendations have also been highlighted in the recently developed PSTA4, a six-year agriculture transformation plan expected to be implemented starting next fiscal year.
The ministry is hopeful that harmonisation of testing and registration of farm inputs at the regional level will also facilitate the six-year plan.