Comprehensive land husbandry technologies suitable for mountainous landscapes were introduced in the country seven years ago to curb down soil loss on the hillsides.
They were part of the Land Husbandry, Water Harvesting and Hillside irrigation (LWH) Project, implemented by the ministry of agriculture since 2010, which aims to increase productivity and commercialise of agriculture through hillside intensification in some of the poorest areas in the country.
The project jointly funded by the government and organisations such as USAID, the World Bank, the GAFSP and the Canadian International Development Agency introduced a wide range of innovations that have played a great role in improving agricultural practices and alleviating poverty in rural areas.
The land husbandry farming system involves a modified watershed approach that includes sustainable land husbandry measures for hillside agriculture on selected sites which uses land management techniques (soil bunds, terraces, cut-off drains, water ways, afforestation and reforestation) as well as strengthening of terraces with risers to develop appropriate practices for both rain-fed and irrigated agriculture and increase production of seasonal and perennial crops.
Before land husbandry technologies were introduced, farmers in certain hilly and rugged areas prone to severe soil erosion suffered from chronic poverty due to unproductive land coupled with poor agricultural practices.
Land husbandry has been implemented in poor, hilly and poverty-stricken areas in Karongi, Nyanza, Gatsibo, Rwamagana, Kayonza, Ngoma, Rulindo, Gicumbi, Rutsiro, Nyabihu, Ngororero, Gakenke and Nyamagabe.
Before the intervention, farmers were unable to reach their full potential and many remained poor as they barely produced enough to feed their families. With the introduction of the land husbandry farming system in 2010, hundreds of thousands of poor rural farmers have been supported to overcome poverty and obtain food security.
More than 21,300 ha of land have been treated with comprehensive land husbandry technologies, out of which over 3,400 ha were marginal land that was made productive.
The land husbandry implementation approach mainly focused on developing comprehensive land husbandry technologies to protect against soil erosion and enhance agriculture productivity whereby 98% of land has been protected against soil erosion from 26% before the project. More than 35,800 people have been employed as manpower in the comprehensive land husbandry works.
“Our land was unproductive and barren; we only survived on maize and wheat because that is where we managed to get yields,” testifies Olive Nyirahabimana, a 31-year-old resident of Bugonde village, in Nyabihu. “But after using land husbandry technologies on our land, we immediately cultivated Irish potatoes and the harvest was amazing.”
“Soil erosion had washed away the fertile soil which left the land unproductive. I used to harvest 100 kilograms of Irish potatoes on 20 ares which did not satisfy my family. Life was very challenging at the time because I had no income to sustain my family,” she adds.
Nyirahabimana participated in terracing works which earned her money for health insurance, fertilisers and food for the family. And her land has become more productive.
“After harvesting 3 tonnes of Irish potatoes, I sold part of the produce and got money to buy new clothes for my family, fertilisers and three sheep,” she says.
Joseph Bihoyiki, 49, from Gasherwe Village in Gicumbi, had been languishing in poverty for many years, but today he is a model farmer in his district as a result of the land husbandry technologies.
“When the project started land husbandry works in our area, I participated in terracing works and I was paid for the work. The money I got helped me a lot to pay health insurance for my family and school fees. I also bought fertilisers from the earnings I got from terracing works,” he says.
Bihoyiki asserts that had it not been the intervention of LWH project in his area, he could have been now in Kigali looking for odd jobs. Instead, he now has two Friesian cows that each cost him Rwf 700,000 in total, something he could never imagine.