Rwanda has significantly transformed its Agriculture sector for the past 27 years and is currently pursuing futuristic and modernised practices and technology to enhance this vital sector.
Taarifa had a conversation with Mr. Augustine Musoni (pictured above) one of Rwanda’s senior scientists that have been working behind the scenes innovating, training and researching with the aim of buttressing the Agriculture sector.
Mr. Musoni is a long serving public servant, transitioning to retirement in a few months. He worked for Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Board RAB, and its precursor, ISAR for the last 27 years, as a trained Geneticist and Plant Breeder.
He was the National Coordinator for Beans / Pulses and Oil Crops Research Programs; Director of Livestock Research Centre, Research Station Manager at one time or the other, often, concurrently.
He led a team of scientists in breeding, selection and releases of close to 50 new bean varieties that made positive impacts to food, nutrition and incomes security to smallholders, traders, processors and exporters under the bean sub-sector in the country.
Musoni is passionate about the power of partnerships, particularly about the leading role by the visionary, passionate, pioneering support by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, AGRA. Taarifa tracked him to his rural farm in Kamate recently.
Below is an excerpt of an enriching conversation;
Why particularly AGRA?
I was privileged to lead AGRA’s Program for Africa Seed Systems (PASS) inception base-line and business plan in 2006.
The challenge by then was educating a critical mass of MSC/PhD breeders, breeding and disseminating better crop varieties to smallholder farmers through local SMEs agro-dealership development and policy advocacy programs.
Ten years on in 2016, I led AGRA’s initiatives for further strengthening market-led crop breeding and the SME seed business.
More directly, I have been a manager or co-manager of four major AGRA funded bean breeding and promotion projects, Refs; 2008 PASS 040, 2011 PASS 054, AGRA-SHP-Climbing beans and on going 2019 RW 005, since AGRA’s inception in Rwanda, about 15 years ago.
I helped write and shape more than 10 AGRA funded proposals for other ISAR/RAB staff and local seed companies. AGRA’s dreams for Rwanda have been largely achieved: Twenty or so MSc or PhDs breeder managers; close to 100 modern released or upcoming crop varieties, and tens of local seed companies and agro-dealers commercializing them with diminishing seed imports from multinationals.
As a bean breeder, what have been your duties?
Plant breeding in general entails pyramiding and deploying packaged desirable traits to mitigate biophysical, socio-economic production, post-harvest, marketing and or processing challenges in new seed varieties.
In the case of common beans, desirable varieties should have better yields, nutritional and market values (colour, size), culinary (taste, fast cooking), early maturity plus resilience to prevalent pests and climate, among others.
You need to work closely with value chain end-users; more necessarily with farmers, in order to tailor new varieties to their needs.
A breeding cycle from crossings, lab and field tests and selections to releases is delicate and can take as long as 7 to 10 years.
What is your rating of AGRA support to bean breeding in financial terms?
It is manifold more than any one other single funder, I have known.
The four ISAR/RAB bean breeding and dissemination grants alone were in excess of U$1.4 million. Add other direct or indirect investments in contractual studies, short-course and long-term degree training of bean scientists, lab, library (Teal), office, transport vehicles and other field infrastructures and equipment, travels and workshops, here and abroad, then one easily loses count.
There are many bean varieties on the local market, how many bean varieties have you released in Rwanda?
In 2010 and 2012 ISAR/RAB released 25 climbing and bush bean varieties largely through the AGRA support. Ten of these were bio-fortified for micronutrients iron and or zinc.
This May, the ongoing AGRA / PIATA Grant: 2019 RW 005 and MINAGRI funding to the National Variety Release Committee (NVRC) have leapfrogged the release of 19 more new varieties, 13 of them climbers with mean yields (3.9 – 5.2 t/ha), and the rest of the bush type (1.5 – 2.8 t/ha).
Eight have higher iron (89 – 119 ppm) and or zinc (35 – 48 ppm) contents than previously released ones. These and others have greater consumer and market appeal, better processability, ecological adaptations, besides better yield advantages.
Farmers, exporters and seed companies should be relieved that the long awaited “Coltan”, “Injamane” and “Shyushya” are now officially released.
Are there any other funders of bean breeding in Rwanda?
Besides the Rwanda Government, AGRA has been our biggest supporter since its inception. The AGRA story in Rwanda starts with the Rockefeller Foundation (RF)’s “Participatory Plant Breeding (PPB)” project of 2001/5.
Nearly all bean varieties, including the popular Fe/Zn-rich bio-forts released in 2012: (RWVs 3006, 3316, 3317, 2887) and in 2010 (RWV 1129, RWRs: 2154, 2245, CAB 2 and MAC 44) were inherited products of the PPB project further promoted by AGRA grants.
AGRA Former RF’s Dr Joe DeVries, many believe, is the father of AGRA in Rwanda. Direct and or indirect contributions from the RF, USAID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (B&MGF) through AGRA were very effective.
Subsequently, more and more funders came along to complement AGRA. IFPRI’s HarvestPlus / CIAT Project, the Syngenta Foundation (SFSA)/CIAT, Kirk House Trust (KT), the Grain Pulses CRSP, and very recently the AU and AfDB-TAAT also came in. ASARECA was additionally more supportive to breeding and releasing of four snap bean (imiteja) varieties.
The International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and its networks (PABRA/ ECABREN) have and are still ever-present since 1995, even a decade earlier; in germ plasm exchange, training, and in direct or indirect mobilisation of research funds and other resources.
A number of the first generation of ISAR varieties of 1991/2 that included: Vuninkingi (G685), Umubano (G2333), Flora de Mayo and Decelaya, just like the MAC, CAB and MBC lines in later released generations were introductions from CIAT.
Aren’t 19 more new varieties quite too many for users and the seed systems?
Firstly, many of these are improved replacements of the older varieties. The bush, climbers or semi-climbing types cater for the diverse macro and micro environments within the marginal to high potential ecologies.
Many varieties provide a broader choice among producer farmers, consumer and value chain market niches with even more diverse preferences. Relate this to a clothing mall or an automobile industry like “Toyota” with all sorts of designs and models targeting different customers.
Rwanda is currently seen as a centre of excellence for the high yielding climbing beans in Africa. Their adoption was about 65% (from around 5% in the 1980s). It is nearly 100% in the high potential North-Western regions.
Productivity and production have nearly doubled for example, from about 300,000 MT in 2005 to about 500,000 MT in 2019.
Currently, Rwanda is a surplus producer and net-exporter of beans; contributing extra U$60million to U$70 million to the annual NGDP (from about U$15 million in 1995).
Beans are most consumed by small holders and urban poor, but also the health-conscious wealth as sources of more affordable green protein.
Studies in 2017/18 showed that the adoption of nutritious iron-zinc bio-fortified bean varieties reduced anaemia and enhanced cognitive ability among vulnerable women and school children.
Beans have stimulated direct investments in processing and export industries such as FarmFresh Ltd, PANOVITA, TOHA, AFI, DUHAMIC, EAX, SARURA, EAGGC, BRG, generating direct markets for farmers and other value chain business and employment.
Blended flours for porridges and pre-cooked bean-based diets are promoted by the National Child Development Program (NCDP) through home kitchen garden and school feeding to mitigate malnutrition.
AGRA founded and supported a number of local private seed companies that commercialise the new beans, soybean and hybrid maize.
I was also personally involved in this through the AGRA supportive contracts. These have grown across the country; and seed importation by multinational companies is being replaced by enhanced local production.
They include Rwanda Improved Seed Company (RISCO); EBENEZER Mixed Farming; Sozo Seed Company; Win-Win Agrotech; Seeds of Trust; Top Quality; Ibisubizo Seed Company, NZALEX, IGNITE Seed Company, and One-Acre-Fund, among others.
What more support to farmers should AGRA and others invest further in bean breeding?
Rwandan farmers need further mobilisation on use of quality inputs and good agronomic practices via greater awareness creation by e-media and ICT, but also training and demonstrations.
As our farmers graduate from subsistence to commercial farming, and with the youth joining the sector, mechanising, ICT’ing, youth and especially women youth empowerment should be more promoted.
Most importantly farmers need to be more connected to fledging off-taker market-led business value chains.
Who is Musoni Augustine?
This is a hard one. Very briefly, I am a married parent of three children. I am a dependable team worker and organiser, with compelling self-drive to achieve set goals. I am a deliberate articulate talker and writer. I enjoy farming, being a progressing bean/maize and livestock rural farmer.
Thank you for your time. Thanks, too, for your continued interest in the agriculture sector, as I have noticed recently.