By The Rwandan Analyst

INTRODUCTION

The Rwandan government, supported by major international donors, has high ambitions to modernise and professionalise its agrarian and land sector to reduce poverty and create economic growth. But, the sector faces some big challenges. There is a high incidence of landlessness, especially among the poorest who, when confronted with unforeseen costs, are often forced to sell land. This is a problem because more than 70% of the population are subsistence farmers, meaning they grow the food they eat. Rwanda is also one of the most densely populated countries in the world. On average households typically have just 0.75 hectares. The government’s reforms fit into a broader call, spearheaded by the UN in the early 2000s, to implement a “Green Revolution” in sub-Saharan Africa. The idea behind this is that land tenure would be formalized. This would increase security and encourage farmers to invest in their land. In this regard, investments would be made in modern inputs – like seeds and subsidized fertilizers – and commercialisation would increase the production of selected crops. As a result, smallholder farmers should profit as they are integrated into commercial commodity chains. At a national scale this would lead to an increase in food security, exports and growth. However, several studies in sub-Saharan Africa have uncovered considerable negative effects of Green Revolution policies. These have affected large sections of rural populations, especially poorer groups. The research conducted ad hoc found out that Rwanda’s land and agricultural policies diminished land-tenure security, excluded vulnerable groups from taking part in the agricultural programs and caused food insecurity for many small-scale farmers. This challenges the Rwandan government’s position, which portrays the agricultural sector reforms as hugely successful, and claims that these have resulted in poverty reduction and increased agricultural productivity. The government relies heavily on quantitative indicators to make these claims. But we do not feel they tell the full story.

1.Impact of agricultural policies

We studied three of Rwanda’s agricultural policies in depth: land registration, the crop intensification programme and the promotion of farmer cooperatives.

1.1. Land registration: The government assumed that official land registration and titling would improve land-tenure security. But our studies show that the new law has led to a perceived loss of control, tenure security and choice for smallholders. This is because the 2005 Organic Land Law states that land belongs to the government and may be reallocated if it is not used according to state policies. Evidence from our research has shown that local administrators frequently threaten farmers with expropriation in rural areas. Urbanisation policies also involve expropriation, often without adequate compensation.

1.2. Crop intensification: This programme started in 2007 with the aim of transforming Rwanda’s family-run farms into professionalised businesses. This meant that instead of sowing different crops at different times of year for household consumption, production is focused on maximising the output of single crops in each growing season. This means their surplus can be sold. Research shows that the programme has sometimes been counter productive, leaving people less secure in terms of food and income.

The model is too simple. Rwanda is a hilly country with many differences in growing conditions, landscapes and farmers’ socioeconomic backgrounds. For example, farmers have suffered crop failures because they have planted crops prioritised by the government that are not suited to specific regions. Or farmers’ crops were destroyed because they weren’t the approved ones.

1.3. Co-operatives: The Rwandan government wants farmers to organise themselves into cooperatives, creating a top-down governance structure that coordinates agricultural production. Membership is sometimes mandatory. Studies found several problems with the model, including high entrance fees which exclude the poorer and more vulnerable farmers.

1.4. state’s use of statistics: Despite these negative outcomes, the Rwandan government has used statistics to validate claims of increased agricultural productivity and poverty reduction.

Although statistics are often presented as an unbiased representation of reality, several authors highlight that this is not the case. For instance, the government uses quantitative indicators – like crop production – to show that productivity has improved. But this does not adequately capture the impact of agricultural and poverty reduction policies. These overlook the actual experiences of the rural population and does not prove any causal relation between the reforms and the outcome.

On top of this, different data sources contradict each other with no way of telling which dataset is more reliable. The Rwandan government and international donors refer to the most optimistic, but least reliable statistics, as the example below concerning agricultural yields suggests.

We sought to shed some light on this. Based on an analysis of various data for 2010/11 – 2013/14, we argue that:

  • Yields probably increased over the period of the implementation of the agricultural reforms. But agricultural and household surveys indicate that this increase was lessthan what the most optimistic, but least reliable, data source suggests (statistics from the Food and Agricultural Organisation). Productivity did go up, but not by as much as the government claims.
  • Poverty decreased significantly between 2005/06 and 2010/11, from 56.7% to 44.9%. But seasonal effects played a partial role as 2010/11 was a good agricultural season (due to favourable weather conditions) whereas 2005/6 was not.

For the period 2010/11 – 2013/14, the Rwandan government’s calculations suggest that poverty decreased from 44.9% to 39.1%. However, our analysis of the same data suggests poverty increased by 1.2%. This discrepancy can be attributed to a different assumption about the inflation rate, a key parameter for poverty estimates. The inflation rate assumed by the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda was 16.7%, a more realistic inflation estimate is 30% –- much higher.

The research presented shows that a deeper understanding is needed on the relationship between government policies and rural realities. It is dangerous, and too simplistic, to draw a direct causal link between rural reforms and poverty reduction.

Unfortunately, there is limited space for contestation in Rwanda. But to effectively engage local society in policy planning, processes need to be inclusive of people with diverse circumstances and perspectives. They must acknowledge and respond to negative impacts by adapting regulations or providing additional support to those in need. This includes independent research, monitoring and evaluation for a realistic, qualitative assessment of rural Rwandans needs and challenges.

2. Strong mafia network in fertilizer politics

Rwandan prosecution is in the final stages of processing charges against 11 fertilizer dealers accused of running a strong mafia-like network that has sucked billions of taxpayers’ money through drawing ghost lists of farmers and conniving with some government officials to fault procurement procedures. The Rwandan fertilizer politics are some of the most complex that even President Paul Kagame has to be involved to fix the puzzle. Many have gone to jail, others siphoned millions and gotten away with it, other officials fired. The fertilizer politics have attracted a powerful network of mafias who maneuver all their way to ensure the cash cow is only milked by them. As early as 2005, the government embarked on the bulk procurement of fertilizers to increase access and use among farmers in the country.  By then farmers were using 3kg/ha in 2006 and the interventions had resulted in the use of 45Kg/ha by 2017. It should be noted that the government partnered with private companies to import required types of fertilizers and quantities according to the timeliness and cropping seasons.

However, whenever the fertilizers arrived in the country, some dubious dealers saw an opportunity because of the loopholes. Tones of fertilizers were being loaded on trucks and sold to neighbouring Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, and DR Congo. Rwanda was losing so much in the process. The media used every opportunity to repeatedly ask President Kagame what he was doing about the disturbing incidences of fertilizer theft in which even local officials were frequently cited in the malpractice. During President Kagame’s outreach program in which he travelled across the country to meet with the citizens, farmers did not disappoint. They always asked for the microphone and registered their anger about the challenges of accessing fertilizer which they said were responsible for poor yields. The Ministry was under Agnes Matilda Kalibata.

In October 2010, the Rwanda National Police swung into action and trailed the fertilizer thieves and their network. It was disbanded and many arrested, government accomplices fired and others prosecuted. In 2016, the government also pulled out of fertilizer importation and left it to four private companies including; (I.D.F, E.T.G, ENAS, and TOP SERVICE ENTERPRISES). Even though the private sector took over the importation of fertilizer, supply, and distribution business, the malpractices resurfaced in a different form since the Ministry of Agriculture would remain involved in paperwork for tenders. This is where high-level financial fraud would be calculated.

2.1.How a Supplier Took On The Mafias

One of the fertilizer tycoons, Nkubili Alfred, operating under a company known as ETS Nkubili Alfred [ENAS], dealing in general commerce, agriculture, import, and export noticed that the fertilizer sub-sector had been infested with malpractices at alarming levels. In 2014, on March 29 – 30, The New Times published a notice calling for expressions of interest to supply fertilizers under the national crop intensification program. Several companies submitted their proposals. Only ENAS was successful.

The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture (MINAGRI) officially wrote to ENAS Company congratulating it on winning the tough selection.“Reference is made to notification from MINAGRI of June 5, 2014, to the effect that your expression of interest had been successful and that you would be invited to make your quotations,” reads part of the letter signed by former Permanent Secretary Tony Nsanganira.

‘Further, reference is made to the invitation for your company to provide quotations for subsidised Mineral Fertilizers that you commit to import and supply for the crop intensification program seasons 2015A&B.  I wish to inform you that your price quotation and delivery for the importation and supply fertilizers for Lot 1, lot 2, lot 5, and Lot 6 has been accepted. You are invited for a meeting to take place on June 25, 2014, at MINAGRI for contract negotiations and signing,” the letter says.

Nkubili and his team are said to have prepared themselves to meet the MINAGRI team for negotiations and signing. The meeting took place but they were shortchanged at the last minute.ENAS registered its dissatisfaction with the manner things had changed. “Based on public notice inviting for expression of interest as published in The New Times on March 29, 2014, we inform you that we were not happy with the way this tender was handled.  In your letter 1268/11.30 of June 25, 2014, in which you informed us of winning Lot 1, Lot 2, Lot 5, and Lot 6 including inviting us for negotiation and signing. We were shocked to learn from the meeting that other companies had been awarded the said Lots. We were also surprised to learn that those companies proposed high prices yet we had the lowest.”

ENAS told Taarifa that they lost the deal at the last minute because MINAGRI officials in that meeting had asked ENAS to inflate their price quotations but ENAS refused and told them they are honourable and ethical business practitioners that would not engage in such illegal moves.

A senior official who was working in MINAGRI in 2014, spoke to Taarifa on condition of anonymity. He said that MINAGRI was concerned that Nkubili and other few suppliers were holding monopoly of the fertilizer industry and decided to diversify the sector by bringing in other suppliers. “There were no contracts per se.. We were not buying any goods or services, we were protecting farmers, ” the former official said.This is how other companies with high price quotations were called and handed the deal unilaterally with disregard of procurement procedures,” Nkubili’s son, Remy Muhirwa told Taarifa. The failed illegal deal between Nkubili and some MINAGRI officials has since resulted in a protracted fight between them until ENAS was struck off the list of private companies that were working in partnership with the Agriculture Ministry in fertilizer import, supply, and distribution.

The company has also invested in a fertilizer plant big enough to produce quantities needed in Rwanda, but MINAGRI placed a caveat on all distributors and warned them not to buy from ENAS, citing moisture elements in their fertilizers, despite Rwanda Standards Board (RSB) contradicting MINAGRI and giving ENAS certification to sell to individual farmers.

Meanwhile, in 2015, ENAS had secured 900,000 Euros of a grant from a U.K NGO, Food Trade, as a contribution to the construction of the fertilizer factory in the effort to cut down heavy importation of fertilizers. After disbursement of over 769,000 Euros, MINAGRi wrote to Food Trade, asking them to stop funding ENAS. MINAGRI was responding to inquiries from Food Trade about ENAS’s licensing. Instead of recommending ENAS, MINAGRI demanded that Food Trade’s funding be suspended, citing two reasons; that ENAS is prohibited from producing fertilizers in Rwanda and is not a beneficiary of subsidies.

After investigating and assessing MINAGRI’s claims, FoodTrade went ahead and completed their funding to ENAS. Later, sources say, Rwanda Development Board (BRD) dismissed MINAGRI’s claims that ENAS is not a permitted producer or fertilizers, instead RDB went ahead recognised ENAS as a fertilizer production plant. Ironically, the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) also disagreed with MINAGRI and approved ENAS’s fertilizers, saying that their products had passed laboratory tests. On July 28, 2015, Nkubili wrote a letter to the Agriculture Minister requesting a partnership in fixing problems in the fertilizer business.“Honourable Minister as witnessed in the just-concluded season, we have witnessed one part of Northern Province where some Agro dealers created a list of ‘Ghost Farmers’ and indicated that they had been supplied with fertilizers and government paid for all these farmers,” Nkubili wrote, adding, “We informed your staff many times but they have not done anything about it. Therefore because all these challenges affect the implementation of the agriculture policy on fertilizers we thought this malpractice should be stopped immediately so that it would not affect the upcoming season of 2016,” Nkubili said in his letter..Nkubili also delivered the same letter to the President’s Office and the reception stamp was duly pressed on the letter on July 28. Others copied and acknowledged receipt included the Prime Minister’s Office, Finance Ministry, the Local Government Ministry, and Rwanda National Police (RNP).Nkubili’s persistence in petitioning higher authorities in the government about the presence of a syndicated mafia-like network that has been siphoning money and fertilizers has since cost him. His company, ENAS, has been removed from a list of companies that officially worked in partnership with MINAGRI to supply fertilizers. Nkubili and other suppliers have been in detention for over two months pending trial. The prosecutor’s office submitted a file on the case to court on Friday, September 11.They were arrested and detained on June 29.

Meanwhile, Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) told Taarifa that this case involving several fertilizer dealers is purely criminal. RIB says the role of MINAGRI staff was a failure to enforce or following up on contractual obligations of suppliers, and that it is an administrative matter and, not a criminal one. All MINAGRI staff interrogated are free. No charges have been placed on them, because “fertilizer dealers have declined to mention who they deal with.”

However, Taarifa has seen a letter written by Charles Murekezi, Head of TaskForce of the Fertilizer Program in MINAGRI, writing to the CEO of Top Service LTD, Ladislus Biguma Mwitende, one of the fertilizer dealers, who was convicted of forgery and use of forged documents. In the letter, the official informs Biguma Mwitende that he had exceeded the number of fertilizer beneficiaries by submitting 23,316 forged vouchers worth over Rwf300 million.

But MINAGRI went ahead and approved  payment of Rwf1,010,170,500 equivalent to 50,568 vouchers. Later, the company repeated the same crime for two years submitting inflated invoices with ghost beneficiaries and getting paid before other suppliers. MINAGRI staff did not report the forgery, neither was anyone held accountable for paying a fraudster.

Agriculture Minister Gerardine Mukeshimana, declined to comment on any of the above cases, saying that, “Fertilizer cases are still in court. Thanks.” “Let’s trust the justice systems, as I said, all of these things are there and wait for their due diligence. Thanks,” she told Taarifa on Saturday.

2.2.Minister Mukeshimana Refused To Attend Meeting Chaired By Kagame   

On June 26, President Kagame chaired the Extended National Executive Committee (NEC) convened at the RPF party Headquarters in Rusororo, Gasabo district. One of the key issues discussed was the sophisticated corruption among public officials and private business owners.

One of the issues discussed was the issue of fertilizers. The President said that he had been informed that the Agriculture Minister was absent. When asked why she did not attend the meeting, the Minister ignored us.

Meanwhile, the President at the meeting asked who else was present to answer questions regarding fertilizer problems in the country.  Jean Claude Musabyimana, the current Permanent Secretary explained that a dossier on 11 dealers had been prepared and was ready for submission to investigators and prosecutors. The President was furious, demanding why it had taken that long.

On June 29, arrests were made and interrogations followed. Some suspects have since been released, particularly those who paid some money to buy their freedom. However, others, even after paying, were not released, including Nkubili, who is, according to his family, suffering a severe medical condition.

Sources Taarifa has spoken to, including RIB investigators, claim that no suspect is clean, and that there is enough evidence to pin them. Other sources say there are powerful individuals behind these cases and are worried they will be exposed if the suspects speak up.

CONCLUSION

Policies established by the Rwandan government in agricultural sector remain theoretical; just facades to present to international funders but the reality is deplorable. The majority of Rwandan population are peasants with narrow plots where they grow for subsistence and agriculture modernization policies constitute groundless reports which are archived in MINAGRI et submitted to funders to feed greedy authorities in the detriment of poor farmers who were supposed being the real beneficiaries. 

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