Farmers’ hopes for seed subsidy extension have faded after only three crops -maize, soya and wheat – will have their seeds subsidised under the current farming season, according to the ministerial instructions regarding the distribution of inputs, including fertilisers and quality seeds.
The new planting season started on July 1 and will conclude on December 31, 2021. The ministerial instructions were issued by the Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources, Gerardine Mukeshimana.
Information from the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) indicates that only those three seeds have been covered by the seed subsidy programme for the past 10 years.
This situation implies that seeds such as [Irish] potato for which farmers are required to make large investments per acreage will remain under the new subsidy scheme.
Jean-Paul Munyakazi, a farmer, and Legal Representative of Imbaraga Farmers’ Organisation told The New Times that Irish potato seeds deserves subsidy as it is needed for consumption in the entire country, yet it requires more investment.
He said that about 2.5 tonnes (2,500 kilogrammes) of potato seeds are used per hectare, which generally cost over Rwf1.2 million currently.
This investment is far more than what is spent on maize seeds where only 25 kilogrammes costing less than Rwf50,000 are needed per hectare.
While a kilogramme of maize seeds ranges from Rwf2,281 to Rwf2,461, a farmer pays between Rwf453 and Rwf544 a kilogramme depending on the variety. This is because the government pays a large part of the maize seed cost.
“Irish potato seeds require a lot of investments,” he said, saying that it is necessary that they get subsidised.
When there is stability in the agriculture sector, Munyakazi said, the entire country benefits from it as low-income earners are able to get affordable food thanks to increased food production at low cost.
Vincent Havugimana, the president of the federation of Irish Potato farmers’ cooperatives in Rwanda told The New Times that the government should subsidise potato seeds in order to make them affordable to farmers.
Explaining why the three seeds – maize, soya and wheat – are the only subsidised seeds as of now, RAB Director General, Patrick Karangwa said that they consider their importance in food security and the agri-food industry.
He pointed out that maize and soya contribute to human consumption, and livestock consumption through production of animal feed, while wheat is a key raw material for the bakery industry.
Subsidies kill competitiveness
François Nsengiyumva, Chairperson of Rwanda Chamber of Agriculture and Livestock at Private Sector Federation said that seed subsidies affects members of private sector by way of fair competition; describing it as “a barrier to the private sector development.”
However, he said that there are residents in the category of the most vulnerable, suggesting that those are the people government should consider ways of providing a targeted subsidy on seeds.
He wondered why people who harvest tonnes of farm produce are given subsidies on seeds.
“Why would someone say in Nyagatare who owns 50 hectares of farmland, grows maize through mechanisation, be given subsidy on seeds? That is an [agriculture] entrepreneur. They do not need such a subsidy,” he said.
“Subsidy should be reconsidered such that because it is the private sector that is doing it [seed production/multiplication], be developed, and that the subsidy is provided to the vulnerable, not everyone,” he said.
The generic subsidy programme, he said, was hindering our development and competition as the private sector so that the residents/farmers buy our seed because they want it and it is of quality.
For Havugimana, seed subsidy should be applicable to all farmers as it is the case for the seeds that have Government financial support so far.
“A farmer who wants to grow 10 kilogrammes of potato seeds, and the one who wants to grow a tonne of potato seeds should be given subsidy,” he said, indicating that a farmer should be able to get subsidised seeds that correspond to their means.
Efforts to get a comment from the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources regarding this issue were futile by press time.
Meanwhile, under the fourth Strategic Plan for Agriculture Transformation (PSTA4) which runs from 2018 through 2024, the Government planned the revision of the current subsidy scheme, which focuses on prioritised crops, into a more targeted sustainable smart subsidy programme.
Smart subsidies for agriculture inputs, it said, include fertilisers, improved seeds and target farmers, who do not already apply agriculture inputs as well as the poorest and most vulnerable households.
This reduces the risks of displacing commercial (non-subsidised) input sales and promotes pro-poor growth. Furthermore, it utilises and supports the further development of existing private input supply networks and defines an exit strategy, PSTA4 indicates.