As Rwanda’s electorate go to polls on Friday to determine the next 7-year presidency, farmers have suggested the next President’s priorities in agriculture.
They want the next Head of State to upscale irrigation, set up special agriculture-related financial institution, ensure timely delivery of seeds and fertilisers, intensify research, fix fair prices for their production and tighten security of their farms against thieves, among others, to help improve farmers’ livelihoods.
Incumbent President and Rwanda Patriotic Front’s flag bearer, Paul Kagame, Democratic Green Party of Rwanda’s Frank Habineza and independent candidate Philippe Mpayimana, have all toured the country presenting their manifestos with different pledges towards agriculture.
Agriculture employs 70% of the labour force and accounts for about 30% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), making it an ideal sector of emphasis for anyone vying for the country’s top office.
Cléophas Habiyaremye, a farmer and carpentry innovator based in Kayonza District, said the office cannot be won out of the blue but a candidate with the best manifesto merits his vote.
Drawing on the last year’s droughts which caused food shortage in Eastern swathes especially Kayonza, Nyagatare and Kirehe districts, Habiyaremye says “Farming should be prioritised under anyone’s leadership as the largest economic activity nationwide. Farm irrigation should be given high priority to reach out to every corner of the country and we would see improved access to finance.”
Athanase Murenzi, the coordinator of rice growers’ cooperative in Ruramba marshland (CORIMARU), Bugesera District, lauds the progress in rice growing but cites challenges that he would see heeded in the next seven years.
“We target seven tons of rice per hectare, up from 5.2 tons currently. To hit the target, we would see timely delivery of fertilisers which are delaying for up to one month. We eye a rice price increase to at least Rwf300 per kilogram, up from current Rwf280 which does not benefit farmers,” he says.
Murenzi says research in agriculture should be put forward to identify more varieties of seeds, adding that three rice varieties they have currently are becoming incompatible with the soil in the area.
Fiacre Nzagirante, a coffee farmer in Gitambi Sector and coordinator of coffee growers’ cooperative in Rusizi District, finds the only way of providing farmers with access to finance in setting up their special financial institution because banks are giving little attention to farmers’ projects.
Phoibe Mukarwego, a mother of four and farmer in Kiramuruzi Sector of Gatsibo District, says she often grows poor quality maize seeds because the government delays to deliver better seeds to farmers.
“Theft especially in our farms is so high here. We grow a lot expecting good production but harvest little while a bigger portion goes to thieves. We often catch them but government releases them within no time and they continue their deeds. We want government to tighten security and penalties against evildoers,” she says.
Both Habineza and Mpayimana have vowed to bring reforms in agriculture policies by scrapping land consolidation and allow every farmer to grow the crop of their own choice.
Mpayimana says he will empower farmers with enough skills, let them sell their production to anyone they want and end government intervention in fixing market prices for farm production.
Habineza, who calls himself ‘Kimaranzara” (loosely translated as one who will end hunger), promises new policies to end food insecurity in the country once he is elected.
Incumbent President Kagame who is seeking re-election promises to build on the existing policies and take the sector to the next step. Each of the three candidates has confidence to win the elections because of different reasons.
Kagame draws confidence in hundreds of thousands of people who have been attending his rallies with many lauding his performance since he ascended into the top office in 2000, but above all, he confided into the wishes of over 98% of the electorate who uplifted term limit for him through the referendum of December 2015. He expressed his confidence on the first day of his campaign by telling mammoth crowds that the results of the elections are known before even going into polls.
Habineza says he will win the elections despite a small number of people he has seen at his rallies because casting a vote is done secretly. Mpayimana, whose rallies’ attendance has been the least, also confides into his manifesto which, he says, is convincing and the best of all, adding that Rwandans have got it right. Mpayimana, who came to Rwanda this year after spending many years in France, also expects the highest votes in the Diaspora.
According to the National Electoral Commission (NEC), over 6.8 million registered voters are expected to cast their votes during the 2017 Rwandan presidential elections. NEC has set up 2,340 polling centres countrywide and 98 polling centres in the Diaspora where 44,362 people are registered to cast their votes at embassies or consulates.
The entire election process has been organized at the tune of Rwf6.2 billion. The number of voters has increased by 1.7 million, up from 5.1 million that voted in the last elections in 2010. 54 per cent of voters are female. Over 1780 observers are set to monitor the elections this year.