Best practice - Better crops by growing smarter farmers
Most agricultural businesses are small, they face bad water management, poor access to markets and to financial services. Currently the agricultural sector lacks the knowledge to reshape itself from the small-scale farms that only feed the farmers and their families to a more knowledge-intensive, market-driven sector.
To improve the situation, a group of companies and organisations in Rwanda and The Netherlands joined forces to provide trainings to farmers and improve existing education. One of the trainers in the project is Liliane Uwamahoro, employed by Dutch agricultural consultancy firm Holland Greentech. She specialises in soil management.
“In my trainings we deal with soil preparation with natural soil improvers. For most farmers here soil analysis is entirely new. They don’t know that even in Rwanda you can bring soil to a laboratory which then tells you within fifteen minutes what you have to do to grow stronger crops. That is when I see that we teach and can inspire people.”
Education and training
The project is called SEAD, which stands for ‘Strengthening Education for Agricultural Development’. It offers education and training to farmers improve food security in Rwanda. By transferring knowledge and technology, the production and quality of dairy, poultry and horticultural products may be improved.
Rob van de Gevel, SEAD project lead in Rwanda: “There is a big demand for agronomists and people with a background in water management. The average age for farmers is 57, so a new generation of farmers is needed.”
SEAD is financed by the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and managed by Nuffic. The project is run by a consortium including the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), consultancy firm Mott MacDonald and a series of Dutch companies, NGOs and educational institutions from both countries.
The Dutch consortium partners together with a group of Dutch agricultural education and training institutions will integrate this project with a new project called SEAD West, funded by the Orange Knowledge Programme.
The partners in Rwanda in the project are the University of Rwanda, the INES Ruhengeri institute of applied sciences and five TVET institutes. One of the goals is to forge a better connection between education and the field, Van de Gevel explains. “A lot of curricula are very theoretical. Too little attention is paid to practical skills. As a result, recent graduates tend to be very ‘green’. That’s the big complaint of trade and industry: ‘we need to un-teach them more than we can benefit from the knowledge they have to offer’.”
To tackle this problem, an inventory was made of what companies look for in new employees. That information from the job market was subsequently translated into educational curricula.
SEAD also stimulates applied research. Research has for instance been conducted to examine the best irrigation method for specific crops, and about what measures farmers can take to prevent pests destroying their crops when they don’t have money for pesticides. So it’s very practical, according to Van den Gevel. “Maybe it won’t end up in a scientific journal, but it does help solve the problems of the community.”
More than a thousand farmers have attended a whole range of trainings in the context of SEAD. The lessons cover subjects ranging from recognizing diseases to accessing markets. Jean Claude Ruzibiza is the owner and CEO of Rwanda Best, which consists of two poultry farms. He is involved in SEAD by providing training.
“We have a training center which accommodates one hundred people at a time. I co-host classes with experts from the Netherlands. We teach teachers, on subjects like animal food management and disease prevention. We have also developed teaching materials in both English and Kinyarwanda.”
Getting farmers, cooperatives and educational institutions to start interacting with each other is one of the most important components of SEAD. Community outreach begins with selecting the participants for the trainings, Ron van de Gevel says. “We always select the lead farmers, so people who already disseminate a lot of information in their cooperatives. That approach made us reach thousands of people.”
Armand Gaikema at Nuffic monitors the project closely. He is enthusiastic about SEAD’s results, but also knows a lot more needs to happen. “Vocational education in Rwanda is still very much in its infancy. Teachers really need to be supported, because this requires a radical overhaul of the education system. That means facing quite a bit of resistance. But I think this project does that very well. Step by step they bring all parties into contact with each other.”
Van de Gevel confirms this. “The educational institutions have serious doubts about so much community outreach. They want more PhDs, and now education money goes to the private sector, that’s how they see it. The challenge was to make them see that this is also a way for them to fulfil their mandate.”
“A few weeks ago we were helped a lot by the Minister of Education, Eugene Mutimura, who wants to know what the schools and universities are doing about outreach. If it wasn’t for us, that would be almost nothing.”
The SEAD project will run until the summer of 2021. Jean Claude Ruzibiza trusts that the development will continue. “Rwanda is moving towards a higher technological level. We want to use that technology in our agriculture and business. It is good to receive training that really opens our minds to modern farming.”