Climate change is hitting food production, say Rwanda’s farm co-ops

Measures such as improved irrigation and erosion control are urgently needed, say experts

Farm co-ops in Rwanda have warned that prolonged drought due to climate change have hit their production levels.

In a new document from the country’s National Cooperatives Federation, Climate change impact on agriculture, the sector points to other climate-related problems, with damage to infrastructure from storms and floods.

It calls for more measures to mitigate the effects of climate change, such as improved irrigation to maintain crop production during a drought.

Rwandan newspaper the New Times gave the example of Ibyizabirimbere Cooperative, in the country’s eastern province Kirehe District, which last September sowed maize seeds on 425 hectares but only irrigated 112 hectares. Seeds on the non-irrigated land failed to germinate, wasting an estimated 7.8 tonnes of seed.

This cost the co-op  Rwf4.2 million (£3,700) – in addition to the waste of fertiliser – which makes it harder for farmers to repay any loans they have made to buy farm inputs.

“When a farmer irrigates, they can harvest over six tonnes of maize per hectare but without irrigation they harvest under 2 tonnes per ha,” co-op president Evariste Tugirinshuti told the New Times.

Related: Co-op sector responds to IPCC report on climate change

Around 90% of Rwanda’s co-ops are based in the agricultural chain, making the sector highly vulnerable to the effects of climate. From January to June 2018, floods and landslides affected 9,412 hectares of crops and caused death of 797 livestock, causing overall losses of more than Rwf204bn (£180m).

Climate change is already becoming so severe, some co-ops could collapse if action is not taken, James Nkubito from Rwanda Cooperative Agency warned the New Times.

“We need to carry out research to detect gaps in co-operative development,” he said. “Agricultural co-operatives … need to be supported to mitigate and adapt to climate change.”

He said efforts were being made to control erosion and adapt to drought, with the government aiming for 102,000 hectares of land to be be irrigated by 2024. Currently, only 50,000 hectares are fed by irrigation schemes countrywide.

The situtation in Rwanda reflects growing concern around the world about the effects of climate change on agriculture. Last year, European dairy co-op Arla decided to give its entire profit to its farmers who had been affected by the drought brought by the prolonged summer heatwave.

 

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