Agriculture Minister Clarifies Use of Chemical Fertilizers

The Minister of Agriculture has stated that chemical fertilizers pose no threat to the environment but rather enhance food productivity.

Image by: Olivier Asselin/ FAO

Dr. Agnes Kalibata says a recent warning by the Rwanda Environmental Management Authority (Rema), that use of chemical fertilisers was counterproductive in the long-term, was uncalled for.

Rema warned this month that increased use of chemical fertilisers may pose a major environmental hazard in the long-run.

But Kalibata said chemical fertilizers should instead be regularly used and promoted because they are not hazardous to the environment and help increase production.

“Using chemical fertilizers is a great investment to increase agricultural production….we are not adding anything new to our soil composition, we are not degrading the environment and we are not harming people’s lives,”

she told journalists.

She said use of chemical fertilizers in Rwanda remains low, adding that its use is essential if the country is to realise its targeted production levels.

The minister said that in some countries, especially developed economies, farmers use 100 kilogrammes per hectare, while farmers in Rwanda use below 30kg per hectare.

Recently Rema warned that long-term use of chemical fertilizers will bring about irreversible effects to the soil composition.

According to the environmental watchdog, there is need to promote and invest more in organic agriculture so as to reduce the reliance on chemical fertilizers.

Nevertheless, Kalibata says the priority should be the use of chemical fertilisers to increase production to meet demand. In a new report, the World Bank has warned that international food demand will increasingly outpace supply in the future.

The government imports over 18,000 metric tones of fertilizers each year, and plans to let the private sector deal with chemical fertilizers importation and distribution by 2016.

Kalibata says organic farming requires a lot of work and that it is suitable for subsistence farming while using chemical fertilizers would increase agricultural produce to satisfy a large population and tackle significantly food shortages.

She encouraged farming cooperatives to use chemical fertilizers.

“Some farmers are reluctant to use chemical fertilizers under the pretext that they are expensive,” she said, encouraging them to take fertilisers as a worthwhile investment.

The agriculture minister said that reluctance to apply chemical fertilizers is serious in the Eastern Province while the Southern Province is more forthcoming.

Using fertilizers is one of the main priorities under the Crop Intensification Programme, which was launched in 2007 to help increase food security and boost agri-business.

However, Rema Director General Dr Rose Mukankomeje insists their warning is an environmental perspective on the use of chemical fertilizers.

In an email to The New Times on Friday, she said it is mandatory to think about the negative impact of chemical fertilizers on the soils, thus knowing which fertilizer is most suitable to the type of soil.

“For the case of Rwanda, although we are not among top users of chemical fertilizers, the hilly terrain, which in most cases is characterised by a thin layer of arable soil, exacerbates high erosion rate,

she said.

Rema says that chemical fertilizers should be combined with and gradually replaced by organic fertilisers which contain organic matters, more absorbed by the soil, environmental friendly and affordable, less expensive taking into account the benefits of government initiatives like one cow per family.

The cattle-stocking programme is partly to boost farming through provision of fertilizers from the animals.

Chemical fertilizers are any inorganic material of wholly or partially synthetic origin that are added to the soil to sustain plant growth, while organic fertilizers are substances that are derived from the remains or by products of organisms which contain the essential nutrients for plant growth.

Good to know:

On 14 September, 2012 Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), was awarded by the United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP) for its outstanding contribution to the protection of the ozone layer.

The award was handed over to the Deputy Director General of REMA, Eng. Collette RUHAMYA who represented Rwanda in the 14th Ordinary Session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment in ARUSHA [… read more]

Source: THÉOGÈNE ISHIMWE, 29 OCTOBER 2012, The New Times,

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