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In a bid to address issues of low agricultural production partly caused by very small farms, Rwanda has embarked on growing some crops in greenhouses and hydroponics – technologies acclaimed to enhance farm output.

The technology aims at enhancing agricultural production

The country seeks to establish greenhouses and hydroponic facilities with a cost of Rwf8.28 billion by 2023/2024.

Greenhouseis a structure with transparent or semi-transparent roof and sides, and it allows the growing of crops independently of the outside climate since its interior temperature and humidity can be controlled.

Hydroponics is a technology that enables the cultivation of plants with their roots immersed in a water solution containing necessary minerals or rooted in a sand medium kept moistened by such a nutrient-rich solution.

Its advantages include the absence of weeds and other soil-borne pests, toxic pesticide residue, better use of water, better control of nutrients and oxygen, increased crop quality and yields.

Greenhouses (mainly for the growing of vegetables and flowers) are expected to cover over 1,274 hectares by 2023/2024 financial year, while hydroponics (for vegetative crops such as Irish potatoes and cassava) will consist of 38.1 hectares.

The development will be achieved through public private partnership (PPP) arrangement under the fourth Strategic Plan for Agriculture Transformation (PSTA 4) which will be implemented from 2018/2019 financial year through 2023/2024 financial year.

Agriculture is carried out by about 4 million Rwandans [of working age] on about 6 million farms. Most of the farms are less than one hectare, according to information from the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI).

An estimated 30 percent of rural households have farms with size less than 0.2 hectares, cultivating only 5.4 percent of national cultivable land (currently estimated to about 1 million hectares).

These households are farming marginal parcels which are too small to produce a marketable surplus; and, they are often poor and cannot farm their way out of poverty or malnutrition, indicates an analysis from MINAGRI.

Speaking to Sunday Times, Wellars Habiyaremye, the president of KOTIBANYA – a cooperative of vegetable farmers in Rubavu District, said that the technologies, especially green houses, can help build their resistance to climate change effects such as drought which adversely affects their farm yields.

The cooperative is made up with 152 members, who own 22 hectares.

“Greenhouses can enable us double or triple our farm produce and be able to carry out farming even during dry spells,” he said.

However, he and other farmers decry the cost of the technology, arguing that they cannot afford it given their financial means, which is one of the challenges that hinder its adoption by many farmers.

For instance, a high-tech greenhouse to cover an agricultural area equivalent to 800 square metres costs about Rwf40 million, while it can cost Rwf10 million for the low-tech option.

“We need support from development partners or subsidy from the government to ease our access to such structures,” Habiyaremye said.

According to Octave Semwaga, the Directorate General of Strategic Planning and Programs Coordination at the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources said that with the small land available in Rwanda, the country cannot keep using traditional and backward farming systems.

“We are thinking about farming vertically in hydroponics, and greenhouses such that a farmer can harvest up to 500 tonnes per hectare, or 100 tonnes on 0.2 hectare, against about six tonnes produced (on 0.2 hectare) currently,” he said.