Rwanda’s arable land size and growing population with a high demand of food are among his push factors. Currently, about 67% of the 12 million population in Rwanda are employed in the agriculture sector with arable land covering over 1.56 million hectares at national level.
Rwanda’s National Institute of Statistics has estimated a 16.9 million growth in population by 2032. This expected rise will increase the demand for food yet the arable land size of 1.56 million hectares is likely to shrink due to expansion of cities.
Growing food without soil or natural light is not something many Rwandans are privy to. Growing crops in soil and relying on natural rain and sun is embedded in the culture of the people of Rwanda
The agricultural sector is the backbone of Rwanda’s economy and contributes over 33 percent of GDP with 45 per cent export earnings, and provides job opportunities to 73 per cent of the total population making the sector the biggest employer in Rwanda.
To meet the expected demand for food, new food production innovations that ensure high productivity with less or small spaces will have to be adopted and for Rwanda, the aeroponic system could be what the county needs.
After three study tours to different countries, Apollinaire Karegeya has become the pioneer of the aeroponic system in the east Africa country. Before his study tours, Karegeya had for twenty years cultivated maize, potatoes, and beans in soil for both domestic consumption and sale.
“I conducted three study tours to different countries with the support from the government, I was amazed by the soilless technology, it prevents diseases and increases productivity,” says Apollinaire.
Aeroponics is farming technic in which roots are suspended in the air and grow in humid environment without soil. Cultivated plants are sprayed with water and nutrient solution. The technology is climate friendly and tubers are disease free because normally crops are attacked by disease mostly from the soil.
Karegeya upgraded to the greenhouse aeroponics farming system for potato tubers in 2015. He currently cultivates on a 9/20 meters greenhouse. On a small parcel of land, he plants about 2500 plantlets which produce potato tubers in 2 to 5 months.
“Since it is not rotational farming, I grow three times a year. When the nutrients are well regulated, you can be assured of the yield, and the profit is easy to calculate. For instance, I generate approximately $6400 on an investment of $3200. This was not the case with growing in open fields where you are on nature’s mercy”, he testified.
From storage of tubers, to marketing his produce, Apollinaire Karegeya clearly has generally changed the impression of the Rwandan population. Some thirty two farmers have been mentored in aeroponics including the twenty years son of Karegeya.
In 2018, FAO with funds from the European Union implemented a project that featured Apollinaire Karegeya with an aim of strengthening linkages between small actors and buyers in the roots and tubers sector in Africa, through the project Apollinaire learnt techniques in the agribusiness sector which he has since imparted in other farmers in the country.
As many farmers adopt the aeroponics system, Apollinaire believes it will increase food production as the system does not rely on mother nature.
By Emmanuel NKANGURA|zamireports.com|Kigali