In Rwanda poverty has steadily reduced in the past decades, however, child malnutrition has continued to be a challenge, currently stunting stands at 45% in rural areas than 24% in urban areas (24%) according to statistics.
In order to share best practices to address this issue, a roundtable discussion, ‘increased production and consumption of bio-fortified food crops was jointly organized by farmer organizations IMBARAGA and Caritas Rwanda at Lemigo Hotel on Tuesday.
The one-day discussion was supported by Netherlands Embassy, as part of the Voice4 of Change partnership program through SNV.
Jean-Paul Munyakazi a legal representative of Imbaraga farmer’s organizations acknowledged the challenge saying that malnutrition has brought an effect on the economy but their initiatives were taken by the government to address the issue which includes increasing staple food production, and food availability.
“However that is not enough that is why we have brought together all actors to exchange ideas, to discuss the way forward and to share information as well as knowledge,” he added.
Netherlands Embassy in Rwanda has also called for the need for collaboration to be done by government, NGO, the private sector, researchers and other partners in the production and consumption of bio-fortified food crops with the goal of healing hunger and fighting malnutrition.
H.E Ambassador of Netherlands Frédérique Maria De Man explained that Malnutrition explained that, so much attention has been to stunting for the past few years, but added that more needs to be done.
“The long-term consciences of malnutrition are often irreversible and their impact on the development of Rwanda can be huge. Rwanda’s agriculture sector has ample opportunity to prevent malnutrition and heal hunger by producing bio-fortified foods like the high iron beans and orange fresh potatoes,” She said.
The ambassador recognized that the pressure on arable land is increasing with the population continuing to expand, but she recognized that Rwanda has changed not only by producing raw but better foods.
She noted, “Rwanda’s agriculture capacity has ample opportunity to prevent undernourishment by working on best practices through the strengthening local food systems. She recommended that more needs to be done through policy development and research,”
In 2014, the government of Rwanda in collaboration with HarvestPlus hosted the 2nd Global Conference on Biofortification in Kigali, in a three-day work conference to deliberate on how best to expand the delivery of nutritious foods to reach more of the peopled suffering from malnutrition deficiency.
For the private sector, the Amb encouraged the private sector to seize the opportunity of developing a value chain around these crops and to process nutritious crops like rice, crisps, and bread.
Since the biggest number of the Rwandan population according to experts consume what they grow, it was decided that things are happening but more needs to be done.
Augustine Musoni a researcher with Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), for example, explained that beans play a role in fighting malnutrition because of richness in iron, and being calories free.
The other aspect he highlighted is that the crop is a top priority for food security and nutrition value because of its production which is high and it is consumed by most people in rural areas of Rwanda.
“Beans used to be called a poor man’s meat however that no longer exists because many people who are conscious of health have resorted to beans.” He noted.
Dr. Julius Sindi Kirimi a consultant in agriculture also supported potatoes production saying that the crop is useful since leaves can be used as vegetables; the same leaves can be used for animal feeds.
The Doctor explained that the cow which gives milk can be fed on potato leaves, in turn, it gives out manure used for crop farming and the leaves can be used as silage as well.
He believes the crop is multipurpose, versatile, and efficient and climate-smart since it can be turned into doughnuts, bread or juice, and other products.
Over 75% of the people in Rwanda stay in rural areas; agriculture contributes 35% to Rwanda’s GDP according to statistics.
Agriculture experts believe that it is extremely important to think of what to do to ensure that something is done to ensure that nutrition is addressed since agriculture produces food.
In the forum, it was also suggested that farmers in rural areas need to have access to income, to ensure that they can have the flexibility to determine the choice of food that they consume.
The forum recommended that women should be empowered since they are very important when it comes decision-making process at any household level.
Dr. Sindi Kirimi further emphasized that it is extremely very important when it comes to how research projects, designs, and implementation are carried if agriculture is to impact on nutrition.
In the case of nutrition knowledge, the Dr highlighted that technology and seed multiplier system should be seriously considered since they play a vital role to meet the nutritional gap in the long term.