Trees for Food Security: news from the field

Dr Leon Nabahungu (Rwanda Agricultural Board), Research Program Manager Tony Bartlett (ACIAR) & Dr Athanase Mukuralinda (ICRAF)
Friday, 17 May 2013

“This is the semi-arid region of Rwanda,” this was a welcoming remark from Leon Nabahungu, Rwanda Country Coordinator for the project, “Trees for Food Security.” We had just driven for about two hours on fairly smooth tarmacked roads to the regional site office of the Rwanda Agricultural Board tree nursery.

This was a field visit I had been looking forward to and I was amazed at how fertile the country was. All along the road to Bugesera there was evidence of heavy rains and flooding and it is no wonder my surprise at Leon’s statement…the area was very green. Moreover, I come from Kenya and our idea of semi-arid is quite bleak, ecologically.

The Trees for Food Security project intends to build on the success of the ICRAF-implemented project known as Evergreen agriculture. This project was implemented in Bugesera and funded by IFAD and the EU. The pilot sites are managed by the farmers and they have preferred to grow fruit trees for nutrition and fodder trees due to Rwanda’s policy on “one cow per family.”

Evergreen project sites in Bugesera (Photo Credit/L Ogutu AIFSC)

AIFSC’s work will therefore feed on the linkages with Evergreen as the infrastructure, and human capacity is already established in Bugesesera. The participatory trials to intercrop trees and maize are to start in September 2013.

The aim of this AIFSC project is to encourage and support farmers to grow trees on farms for improved food and nutritional security. Previous research has indicated that crop yields can be doubled by incorporating the right trees and management practices into agricultural systems.

In Bugesera, a project site in Karama was identified in early 2013 and a local knowledge survey has been completed. In Both Bugesera and Gishwati sites, household surveys have been conducted in seven Cells of the two project areas in January and February 2013. The project will intercrop maize with specific tree-crops for optimal growth of both commodities and examine the fodder production capacity.

The Bugesera site and Burundi share the same agro-ecological zone. This will be useful as much of the research will be able to be transferred when the project is rolled out in Burundi in 2014.

In Villages (Umudugudus) in Rwanda, the Government plays a strong role in guiding the selection of major crops. Therefore the project will work closely with policy makers and provide evidence based on research learnings to influence the best bet cropping/tree options in the agroecological zones selected.

The farmers we met in the field trip were aware of conservation agriculture practices and only used the systems that best suited their situation. The fruit trees are the most popular among the farmers because they expect to reap the nutritional as well as the income benefits.

Plot sizes for the homes are small (30x40sq m). Mahoro (pictured below) has grown avocado, citrus, mango and banana. She uses Caliandra and Leucaena from the communal plots to feed her cow and uses the milk for subsistence and the cow dung for manure.

Mahoro stands next to her young and protected Avocado tree (Photo Credit/ L Ogutu AIFSC)

The project started in August 2012 in Rwanda and to date a large 260,000 capacity tree nursery has been established with Alnus, Avacodo, Tamarillo trees in Gishwati area, north-western Rwanda.

Karago Nursery - Trees for Food Security 260k capacity tree nursery in Gishwati (Photo credit/L Ogutu AIFSC)

CIMMYT, a partner in the project, have also selected their sites and received field equipment for trials to be implemented in the two sites in Sept 2013. The Rwanda Agricultural Board leads the activities in Rwanda with participation from all the local partners including ICRAF, CIMMYT and World Vision Australia.

Both the Evergreen project - which is scheduled to end in Dec 2013 – and the AIFSC-funded Trees for Food Security project uses a systems approach to agriculture. The conservation agriculture practices are labour intensive but the farmers use less fertilizer. They grow trees whose leaves can be used  for green manure and fodder; and whose twigs are used for fuel (during the dry months), the manure from the cows – though not optimal – provide fertilizer for their cash crops which are then sold to buy other commodities. The fruit trees are not mature but the farmers envisage a time – soon – when they could eat and sell the fruits for profit. There’s so much to look forward to!

Report by Liz Ogutu, AIFSC Liasion Officer