Increased Grain Demand Generates Investment Opportunities for Women Seed Producers
Authors: Emma Uwera, Sylvia Kalemera, Edouard Rurangwa, Patricia Onyango, Fadhili Kasubiri and Jean Claude Rubyogo.
Common bean is an important food and cash crop in Rwanda. The country is ranked the highest in bean consumption per capita with 32.6 kg in the world and the crop is grown countrywide. Bean export to Europe and America is booming, currently estimated above 6,500 tons/year. Increased grain demand of specific varieties is creating an investment opportunity for seed producers to multiply and avail seed of the demanded grains.
Ms. Emma Uwera is a young seed entrepreneur, wife and mother to three beautiful children, living in Muyumbu sector, Rwamagana District. She is also the owner of I & J Harvest Limited, a seed company established in 2018 and based in Kigali, Rwanda. The company operates in Eastern Province and aims to expand to other provinces in the country. After graduating in 2011, Emma got a contract to work with Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resource Development Board (RAB) as part of the bean program.
Emma, who was technically supported by PABRA during her studies, graduated with a master’s in Plant Breeding and Seed Systems from Makerere University in Uganda. Her previous knowledge in seed activities inspired her to start her own company to solve some of the challenges of limited access to quality seed, agronomic and climate information often faced by farmers.
Her company sources basic seed from RAB and multiplies it into certified seed. Their mode of production involves both own and contract-based through cooperatives and individual farmers. Their cooperatives are based in Gatsibo and working with 200 members (75% women) and in Bugesera working with 332 members (63 percent women).
The seed company produces a number of varieties but the red mottled rich in iron and zinc RWR 2245 variety is most highly preferred by the grain traders for export. Emma markets her seed to the members of the cooperative and uses her knowledge to train farmers on the effective use of improved varieties coupled with fertilizers to enhance their productivity. Ever since farmers started practicing this on their farm, common productivity of 2.8 ton/ha has been realized from the average on 1.5 tons/ha. Observed increase has propelled seed demands from both individual farmers, grain traders and grain processors. To date, the seed production quantity of the company has increased four times greater than it first was (see I&J Harvest Seed Production chart). Since 2018, a total of 2,076 farmers (60 percent women) have been reached with improved varieties.
With the rapid demand of both seed and grain, RAB collaborated with Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA) to initiate the variety replacement process for the RWR 2245 which was released in 2010 and was highly susceptible to anthracnose. The yield for RWR 2245 has also started dropping from 2 tons/ha to 1.5 tons/ha. Thus, a popular market and farmer preferred RWR 3194 variety, with higher iron content level of 86-94 ppm, larger size, higher yielder (0.8 tons/ha higher), resistant to anthracnose and other diseases was released in 2012 (see image on the left).
The nation's booming grain industry is pulling seed from all seed producer categories. The seed systems of RAB and PABRA are directed in response to consumer demand and choice. Using the bean corridor approach, nine bean seed producers including I & J Harvest are now linked to five grain producers with an average total grain demand of 4500 MT. Seed Road map has been established with seed producers to respond to the grain demand.
Emma's company has had to hire more farmers to match labor requirements for the whole production season due to the growing seed demand.
The future is promising for the company whose business has generated great income and opened other opportunities for investments. “Before I started this seed business, my husband was the sole provider in the family. Now I can support him and contribute towards the wellbeing of the family.” She added: “I am happy that I can provide the first needs to my family and relatives.”
However, they are yet to overcome the obstacle of climate change, which continues to pose a serious threat to the company.