Modernising agriculture through technology

ITW-Agnes-KalibataMinister of Agriculture and Animal Resources Dr Kalibata is an entomologist, with a Master’s degree in crop protection from Makerere University in Kampala and a PhD in crop protection from the University of Massachusetts, USA. She worked for the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Uganda before joining the Rwandan Government.

ICTs are being introduced in Rwanda through strong policies, to transform agriculture from subsistence farming to a market-oriented economic sector, as well as to create jobs for the youth.

Rwanda has two policy priorities which can be drivers for growth: agricultural transformation and investment in information and communication technologies (ICTs). How do farmers and rural areas benefit from the investment in new ICTs? 

ICT initiatives benefiting agriculture include the Agricultural Management Information System (AMIS) that allow farmers to have access to extension materials and specialised agricultural experts and companies. Farmers gain agricultural knowledge through, for example, AMIS extension materials and videos, or links to experts.

A useful tool for farmers is the online exchange platform, ‘e-Soko’, which gives farmers and consumers access to market information such as prices. Through their mobile phones, farmers can also have access to credit information and money transfers, as well as weather forecasts and early warning systems, helping them to mitigate agricultural risks and safeguard their incomes. 

Another example is the platform for service delivery and innovation, which provides vouchers for subsidised seed and fertilisers. On a more general level, the Ministry’s website helps farmers obtain information and documents.

Rwanda’s Vision 2020 document has identified science and technology, including ICTs, as one of the ‘cross-cutting’ issues and has called for the creation of high and intermediate technology enterprises. What kind of technology enterprises does agriculture need?

Agriculture needs enterprises that specialise in modernisation, all the way from production and access to inputs. For example, seeds have a strong technological base that has been a major driver of the so-called green revolution. Value-adding technologies and the use of ICTs to reduce the cost of doing business, or to provide insurance systems and reliable information on weather shocks, are all key drivers that are extremely important to the sustainability of the agriculture sector. 

Youth often adopt new technologies. Does the Ministry develop specific ICT programmes targeting the youth?

The Ministry put in place 10 Community Centers for Innovation and Smart Villages so that youth in the countryside can build their capacity in ICTs and have up-to-date information, mainly on agriculture. The Ministry also started two e-communication platforms: e-soko employs youth in data gathering; M-Visa targets youth in voucher distribution for fertiliser programmes and other programmes including plant and soil health clinics, livestock, input shops and surplus stock management, all creating jobs for the youth by the use of ICTs.

What do you expect from the forthcoming ICT4Ag Conference that will be held in Kigali in November, co-organised by CTA?

Above all, we want to learn and I expect CTA to present experiences of what has been done elsewhere. The conference should also create awareness of the role of ICTs in agriculture with a special emphasis on youth. Ease of use of ICTs should be demonstrated, especially for women farmers who never have enough time for their day-to-day businesses. I hope the conference will profile opportunities that exist in Rwanda. The conference should also create a networking platform for youth, the private sector and farmers from across the region.

If you had to choose one topic to be discussed at the conference, what would it be?

Practical application of ICTs in agriculture and the business opportunity they present to the private sector. 

What policies have been put in place to ensure food security in Rwanda and what have been your major successes?

Vision 2020 is a government strategy that aims at transforming Rwanda into a middle income country (per capita income of about US$1,200 per year). To achieve this, the country is focusing on the transformation of agriculture from subsistence farming to market-oriented modern farming. 

A major success for Rwanda has been the Crop Intensification Program (CIP). It was started in 2007 to increase agricultural productivity. CIP has a multi-pronged approach that includes facilitation of access to inputs (improved seeds and fertilisers), consolidation of land use, provision of extension services, and improvement of post-harvest handling and storage mechanisms. There are six priority crops namely maize, wheat, rice, Irish potato, beans and cassava. New crops are added on a need basis. The general impact has been improved food security and increased income for farmers. Overall, a 12% reduction in poverty has been achieved in the last five years; 61% of this can be attributed to the agricultural sector and CIP is a huge component of that improvement.

For more information on CTA's conference in Kigali: http://www.ict4a.org/en/



 
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