The tension between Russia and Ukraine has led to a general food crisis around the world. This situation led Macky Sall, current chairman of the African Union, to visit Russia to negotiate the release of grain stocks blocked in Ukraine because of the war. But Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, finds it unacceptable that a country of 44 million people should feed the whole of Africa.
According to Rwandan President Paul Kagame, “It is unacceptable for Ukraine, a country of 44 million people, to feed Africa, a continent of 1.4 billion people. I promise all Rwandans that Rwanda will achieve food self-sufficiency before 2025. Thus, Kigali’s promise is clear: food self-sufficiency will be achieved in the country before 2025. The man who rules the country of about 13 million people with an iron fist was outraged by Macky Sall’s begging before Putin. The Rwandan president goes beyond mere words to action. He states very clearly “I have authorised $1 billion worth of agricultural equipment and all the logistics needed to revive our agricultural industry”.
Paul Kagame’s reaction follows the AU chairman’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday 3 June. Macky Sall had told the master of the Kremlin of his fears of a food crisis in Africa, caused by the Russian offensive in Ukraine.
Rwanda’s strong agricultural performance
Paul Kagame’s Rwanda is one of the giants in the agricultural field. Indeed, agricultural exports brought in a total income of 447 billion Rwandan francs ($445 million) at the end of the 2020/2021 fiscal year. This is according to data published by the National Agricultural Export Board (NAEB). Already in 2007, the crop intensification programme trained farmers in best practices, provided access to high quality seeds and increased fertiliser use from 5% to 70%. The state has provided subsidies ranging from 15% to 35% for mineral fertilisers and from 50% to 80% for improved seeds.
These colossal statistics describe the primary role of agriculture in Rwanda’s economic recovery. It should also be noted that the Great Lakes region holds 27% of the world’s fresh water, and Rwanda’s equatorial location and altitude mean a stable climate throughout the year, punctuated by two rainy seasons (in October and April). This allows for year-round cultivation with one harvest per rainy season. The use of artificial irrigation even ensures a third harvest for many crops. In addition to the great technological revolution, it is clear that Rwanda could be food self-sufficient by 2025.
Ukrainian agriculture stifled
In Ukraine, the agricultural sector was almost paralysed by the war. On Monday 13 June, the Ukrainian Ministry of Agriculture announced that the country has lost a quarter of its arable land due to the Russian occupation of some regions in the south and east. Indeed, this conflict is between two grain superpowers. Russia and Ukraine together account for 30% of world wheat exports. This war has led to a surge in the cost of cereals and oils, with prices exceeding those reached during the Arab springs of 2011 and the ‘food riots’ of 2008.
The occupation of several Ukrainian regions and the grain blockade imposed by the Russian Black Sea Fleet have nevertheless forced Ukrainian farmers “to change what and how much they sow,” said Taras Vysotskii, Deputy Minister of Agriculture. But if the consequences of the Russian invasion for the Ukrainian domestic market seem limited, the impossibility of exporting the grain produced abroad nevertheless raises the fear of “a hurricane of famine” in the coming months, according to the UN. Currently, “between 20 and 25 million tonnes of grain are blocked”, warned Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on 6 June, betting on a figure that could rise to “70-75 million tonnes” by next autumn.
Rwanda has therefore set itself a challenge that it could certainly meet thanks to its agricultural potential. If this East African giant can combat food dependency, it will be an excellent bet.