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Rwanda harvest grows, but 600,000 still need emergency food aid

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Food production gains in Rwanda

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Food production in Rwanda is expected to rise by 15 percent this year but remains well below the pre-crisis level, and almost 600,000 people will need emergency food aid during the second half of the year.

These findings are contained in the special report of a Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission conducted jointly by FAO and the World Food Programme (WFP), which visited Rwanda from 7 to 15 June.

"Altogether, food crop production for the whole of 1996 is estimated to be 15 percent higher than in 1995 but still remains 23 percent below the pre-crisis level in 1990. In terms of per caput production, considering the smaller number of people in 1996, this year's result is 14 percent below the 1990 level", the report said.

An estimated 576,000 people, 9 percent of the total population, will need food aid, the report said. They include returning refugees uprooted by the the upheavals of April 1994 and earlier internal conflicts and such vulnerable groups as nursing mothers, children and the elderly, as well as participants in food-for-work projects.

The flow of returning refugees has slowed down in recent months and is forecast by the mission to average 10,000 people per month in 1996. On this assumption, the total population of Rwanda as of September 1996 would be 6,317,000.

The mission estimated the recently harvested 1996 second season crop at 109,000 tons of cereal, including 85,000 tons of sorghum, 13,000 tons of maize and some 5,500 tons each of wheat and rice (paddy), 72,000 tons of pulses, 607,000 tons of roots and 1,049,000 tons of bananas, an overall increase of seven percent over 1995.

The rise in production was attributed to an increase in planted area with the return of refugees to the fields, improved security in the country and assistance from the international community in the form of seeds and agricultural tools.

Yields were generally better due to good rainfalls and a low incidence of pests, the report said. Even more important, it said, was the fact that land had stayed fallow on farms that were only partially operated if at all during the last two years, thus increasing its fertility.

The report said, however, that "a return to normal yields or at least to those obtained in 1990, is constrained by a combination of factors in addition to climatic hazards. The most important ones are: the inadequancy, if not absence, of supplies of high-quality seeds and planting material, especially for cassava, maize and soybeans; the inadequate availability and, above all, the high cost of pesticides."

Seed distribution in Rwanda

FAO has worked with other UN agencies and NGOs to help revive agriculture in Rwanda by distributing seed and tools

In preparation for the next crop to be harvested in December and January, the report said, Rwanda's priority needs are disease-free planting material for cassava and sweet potatoes and inputs - such as pulse and maize seeds, mineral fertilizer and pesticides - at affordable cost.

There is a need, however, to look beyond the next agricultural season towards a thorough rehabilitation of the agricultural sector. International assistance will be especially important for the rehabilitation of the tea, coffee and livestock sectors.

The mission estimated the country's food deficit for the year at 127,000 tons of cereals and pulses, including the cereal equivalent of roots and tubers. With commercial imports expected to amount to 44,000 tons, Rwanda's food aid requirement for the year was expected to total 83,000 tons, with 44,000 tons needed during the second six months of 1996.

Although these figures reveal continuing difficulties, they also show marked improvement over the past year. A similar FAO/WFP assessment mission conducted in March 1995 calculated that Rwanda would require 150,000 tons of food aid during just the first six months of the year.

About 43 percent of the overall food aid is distributed to people taking part in bilateral and multilateral emergency works programmes for the reconstruction of homes and rehabilitation of the agricultural sector and rural infrastructure, the report said.

FAO monitors crop and food outlook at global and national levels to detect emerging food supply difficulties and disasters through its Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS).

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