Most of us eat the food that is delivered on the table or go to the market to buy the ingredients without knowing where the food or ingredients is coming from or how it has been cropped. Do you ever ask yourself what if we reach the point where there will be no food on the table? You may think that this can be caused by poverty but what if it can be caused by the crops not growing anymore? You may be wondering what on earth can cause crops not to grow? Welcome to my blog as I talk about one of the most significant issues we have in the agriculture sector yet it is barely addressed. 

Get to know native and local crops and how they are going extinct

Before the colonization, Africans had their own indigenous way of cultivating and were using native and local crop varieties. These crops were easy to crop, they were resistant to pests and able to adapt to climate change, they did not need a lot of extension services such as fertilizers or chemicals for them to grow, they had root systems that helped to store nutrients, absorb water thus causing the surrounding soil to be fertile and rich in organic matter, and they also acted as medicinal plants (Cardno Native Plant Nursery, n.d.). Later on, in the colonial and the post-colonial period, new crop varieties were introduced that produced a higher yield than the native and local crops and grew faster to satisfy the growing population, thus the people started to lose interest in the indigenous knowledge of farming and also the native and local crops and adopted the new crop varieties. This event caused the native crop varieties, that were once grown and maintained by the people, to be neglected thus declining and new farming techniques were introduced (Seburanga, 2013). These new crop varieties are genetically modified from the native crops and genetically modified (GM) occurs when the genes of other organisms have been inserted into the genome of the crop plant to improve it in one way or another (GM Crops, 2020). It is basically the genetic engineering of food. Now, the crops can be easily manipulated so as to satisfy the need of the market and also to simplify agriculture. For example; now, a farmer does not need to spray pesticides on the farm to kill pests, there is DNA that is inserted in the genome of a particular crop that can destroy the digestive system of the pests, thus causing it to die. Over time, this has increased productivity and has satisfied the growing market. Unfortunately, the GM crops have the disadvantage of increasing toxins in the soil, killing or affecting non-target organisms for example; insects that contribute to pollination or that depend on the crop for survival, another problem is that nobody (the consumers) knows what gene material is embedded in the genome of the crop, it may be harmful or not for our health as most of the GM crops are imported and this is the food we consume daily, and last but not least the GM seeds degenerate mostly on the third generation, thus going back on the native species to genetically modify them again. This shows that GM seeds cannot be sustainable on their own. Crop production is expected to be reduced to 20% by 2050 (FAO, n.d)  and currently, the native crop varieties are becoming extinct because they are not being used. Conservation policymakers should take immediate action in conserving these indigenous crops because if the native crops go extinct, the GM crops will deteriorate thus causing food scarcity and we will probably not have food served on our tables.

Native and local varieties crops in Rwanda

In Rwanda, the traditional agriculture was endowed with a very rich variety of crops which unfortunately are abandoned or under abandonment, thus leading to their disappearing and consequently to the loss of biodiversity, especially the agro-biodiversity, and some of the crops that are disappearing are; inkori, impombo, ibikoro, nyiragikori, uburo, kandore, and others native and local crops. The main reason behind the abandonment of these varieties is that they are less productive while there is the challenge of ensuring food security to the increasing population. Therefore, priority has been given to more improved crop species and varieties, to be cultivated on available land. The government has also promoted a crop intensification program where improved seeds are cultivated supported by an important package of technology and inputs in order to increase crop production and ensure food security (Review of Traditional Knowledge, 2017). The importance of those native and local crop varieties under extinction is that they offer some advantages compared to improved varieties, such as being more sweets, more resistant to climate stresses, and less demanding in terms of inputs (fertilizers) (Global Ecovillage Network, n.d.).

Ikori (local beans)  Photo credit: e-hinga

Traditional ways of farming native and local crop varieties

Let’s look at the traditional ways in which the native and local crop varieties were maintained and how they used organic and simple materials for the crops to grow and fight against pests without needing any chemical pesticides. They used to fertilize their crops using very simple things such as cow urine mixed with men’s urine to fertilize banana crops and also to control the banana disease called “Kirabiranya”. Other people used ash to fertilize crops and for killing the pest, Banana plantations protected from “Ikigoma” which is a fungi species that attacks banana, by binding with a rope the regime of banana before its opening until the critical period of contamination is passed away; harvest conservation using “Umuravumba”, and cutting weeds on ridges and place them between the rows of bushes during stripping, while those in the row are automatically destroyed or buried. This has the effect of delaying their growth and this gap in weed germination allows the main crop to take its place. In addition, the presence of residues forms compost, thus delaying the germination of weeds (Review of Traditional Knowledge, 2017). All of these ways were perfectly working to ensure crop production and food security to people.

Suggested ways to conserve the native and local crop varieties

What can be done to stop the loss of native and local crop varieties and even maintain them sustainably is to first search and find seeds for those crop varieties; sensitizing farmers and partners on the importance of such varieties and their effective involvement in the conservation of the agrobiodiversity; put in place means and spaces for their conservation and training farmers on how to properly grow and conserve those species and varieties. Moreover, as the farmers will be growing the native and local crops varieties, it will be possible to even produce the Genetically modified (GM) crops locally, and also natives and local crop varieties are the most reliable bank of gene materials to be continuously researched on and further obtaining more productive and adapted varieties. The Government of Rwanda should also put more strength in sensitizing the farmers to grow the native and local varieties and providing skills on how to grow them and invest more funding in this sector for sustainable food security.

Call to Action

I can conclude by saying that conserving the native and local crop varieties are vital for our health as they are natural and contains a lot of nutrients and some of them serve as medicinal plants, for our environment as these native and local crop varieties are resilient and adaptable to climate change, and for our economy as they require fewer inputs for their growth. Let’s conserve the native and local crop varieties, let’s plant them in our home gardens and preserve them from extinction, we will be securing a future for sustainable food security. 


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