Promoting innovation: CIP shows Rwandan farmers tools for better harvests

Rwanda has made good progress on improving its agricultural production in recent years, and the International Potato Center (CIP) has contributed to this through its promotion of orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) and, more recently, potato varieties. Yet poverty and malnutrition persist in many rural areas, where farmers not only need improved varieties and quality planting material but also training in best practices to ensure high yields.

Farmers learned about new technologies at CIP’s booth and demonstration plot. D.Kiiza/CIP

CIP takes advantage of varied opportunities to disseminate agricultural knowledge and technologies, and a recent such opportunity was Rwanda’s National Agriculture Show, where hundreds of people visited CIP’s demonstration plot and booth. CIP worked with the Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB) and the African Development Bank’s Technologies for African Agriculture Transformation (TAAT) program to showcase technologies and practices for quality seed production, crop management, storage and good farming practices at the 14th National Agriculture Show, held in June.

Organized by the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources, under the theme “Promoting Competitiveness of Agriculture,” the annual event bought together exhibitors and visitors from across Rwanda to exchange information, experiences and opportunities in agribusiness. For the RAB, CIP and other CGIAR Centers involved in the TAAT program, it was an ideal venue to promote innovations for the agricultural sector.

Visitors to the demonstration plot were able to see technologies that can extend the shelf life of roots and tubers, such as a cool chamber and a diffused light store. Visitors learned about tools to enhance seed production, including net tunnels for sweetpotato vines, screenhouses and aeroponic systems, in which a plant’s roots grow in a nutrient-rich mist and it produces seed tubers, or cuttings, faster than it would in a pot.

“This year, CIP decided to showcase technologies for better crop management, quality seed production, storage and good farming practices to farmers and other stakeholders,” explained CIP senior agronomist Jean Claude Nshimiyimana. “Some of these technologies are affordable and can easily be adopted by smallholder farmers.”

Students from the University of Rwands, and private companies, exhibited OFSP products. D.Kiiza/CIP

The 14th National Agriculture Show attracted key players in the sector by showcasing research, innovations, modern farming equipment, farm inputs and improved livestock breeds and crop varieties.  On the opening day, Rwanda’s Minister of Agriculture, the Honorable Gerardine Mukeshimana, PhD, visited CIP’s demonstration plot and encouraged RAB and CIP to share its technologies with farmers as soon as possible, in order to improve seed conservation and crop management and reduce post-harvest losses.

The show provided an opportunity for the public to learn about Rwanda’s five new potato varieties – Twihaze, Ndeze, Nkunganire, Izihirwe and Kazeneza – and orange-fleshed sweetpotato varieties such as Kabode, Mafuta, Terimbere and Vita. CIP, RAB and TAAT staff answered inquiries about where to obtain quality planting material for those varieties and how to access markets for sweetpotato roots and OFSP processing. Participants noted that orange-fleshed sweetpotato is increasingly being grown in Rwanda because of its ability to be used as an ingredient for processed foods.

Rwanda’s Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Gerardine Mukeshimana, visited CIP’s demonstration plot. D.Kiiza/CIP

As Dieudonne Niyodushima, a young entrepreneur who visited the CIP stand, explained: “I have been in the agriculture sector growing French beans in Bugesera district for over two years now.  Very soon, I would like to start OFSP farming in Rulindo district, because I have realized there are many business opportunities in sweetpotato farming.”

A growing number of young entrepreneurs are engaged in OFSP processing in Rwanda. Companies such as the Carl Group, Dusabe Company Ltd, Esther’s Aid, Urwibutso Enterprises, as well as students from University of Rwanda, exhibited OFSP products that included bread, cakes, biscuits, flour, juices and mandazi (Rwandan doughnuts) at the show.

As the Ministry of Agriculture’s Permanent Secretary, Jean Claude Musabyimana, observed: “Among the best innovations in the Agri Show were the development of new varieties of different crops and processing of OFSP into various products.”