Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Agroforestry delivers significant benefits to food security and livelihoods of farmers in Rwanda

Planting trees in farming systems is not often recognised as a key strategy to improve food security, resilience and livelihoods. Even where the importance of trees in farming systems is recognised the view is often expressed that it will take many years before the benefits from the tree planting are realised. Findings from ACIAR’s Trees for Food Security Project in Rwanda clearly show that with the right trees and management practices being incorporated into agroforestry systems, farmers do receive substantial benefits very quickly. Two Rwandan farmers shared their stories with ACIAR to demonstrate the benefits from adopting agroforestry systems can change people’s lives.

Mrs Mukarugwiza Clemence from Nkomane village in Nyabihu District is a Trees for Food Security champion farmer. She and her husband have a 40 acre farm on which they grow climbing beans and potatoes. Prior to the project they usually harvested 60-80 kg of produce per acre and these products were mostly used to feed her family of 6 children. Clemence became involved in agroforestry through the Karago Rural Resource Centre, which was established by the project. She attended a training program which taught about the role that trees could play in the farming system and what the correct spacing was for planting beans and potatoes. After attending the training, she has adopted agroforestry practices, including planting Alnus trees to improve soil fertility and control erosion, as well as planting 100 tree tomatoes (tamarillos). They manage the Alnus trees to produce green manure and stakes for their climbing beans.

Ms Mukarugwiza Clemence with her health insurance and bank account books. Photo: Tony Bartlett
With the new agroforestry practices Clemence said that the crop yields have increased to 150-200 kg per acre and they are now able to sell produce not needed to feed the family. But it is the incorporation of tree tomatoes into her farming system that has really empowered her and changed her family’s lives. Clemence told us that in the first year after she established the tree tomatoes she sold about 100 kg of tamarillos. This brought in income of RWF 80,000 ($125) and enabled her to establish a bank account and for the first time ever to take out health insurance for her family. In the second year she doubled this income by selling 200 kg of tamarillos, and in the third year she sold about 130 kg of tamarillos. With the improved livelihood she can now afford to pay for school fees and uniforms for her six children. Clemence said that when other women asked her about her new agroforestry system she trained 20 women from her village in how to obtain the seedlings and adopt these agroforestry practices.

Ms Mukarugwiza Clemence and Tony Bartlett with tree tomatoes.

Mr Rugerero Joseph Desire from Karandaryi village in Nyabihu District is another Trees for Food Security champion farmer. Joseph has 60 acres of farmland, spread across three plots, and this supports his family of 10. He grows potatoes, maize and climbing beans. Before the project, his crops yielded 70-90 kg per acre and he used all of this for home consumption. Joseph also became involved in agroforestry through the Karago Rural Resource Centre.

Joseph said that by adopting the agroforestry system and improved farming practices, his crop yields had increased to 150-200 kg per acre and he is able to sell the additional produce. He has also planted tree tomatoes which he got from the Rural Resource Centre. Joseph proudly explained that he is using this new income to pay secondary school fees for two boys and two girls and also the university fees for his eldest son. He said that without the project teaching him about agroforestry he would not have been able to afford the RWF 600,000 ($960) fee to send his son to university. In the early part of the project only 13 farmers in Joseph’s village were implementing agroforestry systems. As a champion farmer Joseph has trained another 30 farmers and they are now also benefiting from adopting agroforestry.  

Mr Rugerero Joseph with his climbing bean. Photo: ICRAF
Joseph also explained that before the project, farmers were forced to plant Alnus trees to control erosion but no one explained to them how these trees could be used to improve their farming systems. He also explained that for many farmers a limiting factor in producing climbing beans was access to stakes. Previously they had to pay RWF 20 for each bamboo stake but now they have learned how to use the Alnus trees to produce as many stakes as they need.

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