Monday, January 31, 2011

Struggle between paradigms

In Burundi land is so scarce (or some people don't have land?) that they grow all the way to the edge of the roads (this is the main road from Bujumbura to Kigali)

In my recent trip to Burundi and Rwanda, I saw some examples of the rather schizophrenic policies that are ruling agriculture. In Rwanda the government is vigorously promoting chemical fertilizers trough different schemes in different crops. For some crops farmers get vouchers that give them fertilizers for free. In the case of coffee, "for free" means that the government
tax the coffee exports. This means that the government let the farmer get a lower price and deprive them from taking their own decisions how to farm. It also means that those that chose not to use any fertilizer, e.g. organic farmers are subsidizing the non-organic farmers. This is very far from good politics.

The same country also have some policies very favorable for organic farming, e.g. the program One-cow-per household, and they have recently initiated a large, World Bank funded (!), project for hillside irrigation, where all the farms will be organically managed. Our consultancy company Grolink, at this very moment, conducts training of 20 horticulture cooperatives in organic farming for the Rwanda Horticulture Development Authority, and we also consult two coffee cooperatives as well as a tea company. The minister of agriculture, Agnes Kalibata, has spoken up in favour of organic farming many times.

Burundi and Rwanda are intensively farmed and densely populated. Their proportion agriculture land is around three quarter of all land, an exceptional high figure.
The land is also mostly steep and therefore prone to erosion.
Erosion in Burundi

It is assessed that in Rwanda 1.4 million tons of soils is lost each year and with that soil 41,210 tons of nitrogen, 280n tons of phosphorus and 3,055 tons of potassium. In some areas losses can reach a staggering more than 500 tons per hectare and year! The losses of nutrient due to erosion is bigger than the total amount supplied with chemical fertilizers. It is calculated that the erosion corresponds to a decline in capacity to feed 40,000 persons per year (data from the Strategic Plan for the Transformation of Agriculture in Rwanda - Phase II, February 2009).

If anybody doubts the influence of government and social stability on farming, crossing the border between Burundi and Rwanda is a telling story. In Rwanda terracing is much more developed (and in many cases the kinds of terracing is clearly a result from larger initiatives rather than individual farmers) There is also much more forest, especially on the top and ridges of the hills, where erosion starts. Notably Rwanda has been politically stable since the genocide, while Burundi only has had peace a few years.
Terraced landscape in Rwanda

Rwanda and Burundi are certainly not alone in having contradictory agriculture policies. The EUs CAP is just a jumble of contradictions. And the US promotes GMOs while it gives some money to organic farming, Farmers' market. Contradictory policies are rather the rule in agriculture.

No comments:

Post a Comment