When you talk about ‘mobile farmers’, one would keep asking about the real meaning of this trend.
In different scenarios, many would relate a mobile farmer to a subsistence cattle keeper who migrates from one place to another in search of greener pastures for his cattle, commonly termed as pastoral nomads.
However, in Nyagatare district, the term mobile farmers carry a different gist. Being a district that harbours more than half of the country’s cattle farming, Nyagatare is rich on a vast savannah type of land, with tropical beautification that favours cattle farming.
As a result, in January 2008, President Paul Kagame launched land redistribution exercise in the Eastern Province.
The President’s mission was, in the first place, to ensure that at least every resident in the province own a piece of land, admonishing owners of big chunks of land to equally share with others where a family would be given 25hectares of land and above depending on its size.
During the redistribution exercise, ordinary residents were given green light to own equal land like those big names in the government who had earlier owned big chunks of land.
A good example was when the President, while in Kabarore sector of Gatsibo district, presided over the task of re-distributing two farms belonging to the then local government minister Protais Musoni ( now Minister for cabinet affairs) and ex-parliamentarian Brig Gen (rtd) Sam Kanyemera Kaka and their families.
The farms, located in the two sectors of Kabarore and Ngarama, both in Gatsibo District were demarcated where both Minister Musoni and his brother Maj Theoneste Shyaka retained the standard 25 hectares each, down from the massive 351 hectares they originally owned between them.
Beneficiaries here were livestock farmers as well as cultivators.
The President later tasked a commission charged with the re-distribution work to ensure that beneficiaries are the neediest of the lot.
Emergence of mobile farmers
Land redistribution exercise saw huge number of population, especially in Nyagatare district; acquire farms for either cattle farming or other farming practices.
Those who took up cattle farming practices were the very people who, hitherto to being given farms, had been in practice for some time.
Five years down road, most of these farms have turned to be only in the hands of herdsmen, while their bosses command them right from kilometers away from their farms through telephone-communication, hence the birth of the term ‘mobile farmers’!
Source of cattle diseases
While mobile farming has become a habit in Nyagatare and other neighbouring districts in the province, the vice is becoming a public alarm as a result of massive cattle diseases that have ruined farming progress in the district.
Among the most pressing diseases is ‘foot and mouth’ disease that has hit Nyagatare district and some parts of Gatsibo and Kayonza in recent days.
The widespread of the disease which allegedly came from Uganda, is mainly caused by cattle herdsmen who illegally cross-over Rwanda-Uganda border and trade cows mainly on the black markets, according to veterinary officers in the district.
“There is a glowing issue of mobile farming in this district. People look after their cattle while in Kigali and other parts of the country. They just use mobile phones to command their herdsmen down there on what to do. Well, that might be lack of enough time to be close to your farm but that can’t stop you from hiring a qualified veterinary officer to look after your cattle in your absence,” stated one of veterinary officer in Nyagatare district.
Threatening impacts due to diseases
Foot and mouth disease in Eastern province has caused alarm bells by the government to ban movement of cattle across the province as well as banning cattle markets slaughtering.
The ban, according to Nyagatare residents not only brought a temporary end to meat lovers but caused other side effects like lack of money to send Children to school.
“90percent of our economic base depends of cattle farming hence considering the practice our daily bread. Banning cattle markets has denied us chance to sell and get money to send our children to school.
Now that these mobile farmers are ring leaders to severe spread of cattle diseases, government should take tangible measures against such sub-standard practices,” Complained Emmanuel Uwayezu, a local farmer in Nyagatare district.
Government warning to mobile farmers
In a special warning addressed to local farmers in Nyagatare district, Stanley Muganwa, the district deputy mayor in charge of economic development warned that a campaign will soon be launched to crack down those suspected to be mobile farmers as part of freeing the district from being disease prone.
“It is very unfortunate to find out that a person spends more than a month without a single visit to his farm. We are tired of these so called mobile farmers and special measures are in place to end this,” said Muganwa.
Currently, thousands of cows suspected to be disease prone are camped in a special zone in Gabiro military barracks to protect them from spreading more diseases to others.
According to Dr. Justin Zimulinda of Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), the number of cows that was brought to Gabiro military barracks for special treatment is quite improving.
He warned farmers from further illegal movement of their cattle to protect more spread of the disease.
“We are working round the clock to treat those cows that were affected. But this will never be successful is farmers don’t shun illegal movement and trade of cattle,” warned Dr. Zimulinda.