This piece was reworked and posted on the IDS PhD students’ blog – The Side Room and The Povertist.
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How does the ownership (and rearing) of livestock interact, influence and impact the crop farming production practices of smallholder farmers in Rwanda (and vice versa)?”
For the past two weeks and a half, I worked in a village nearby the town. The study site is about half-an-hour away by walk from the town’s market. Most of the villagers are farmers, but there are also a significant proportion of people who work in the city as professionals, trade workers, and labourers.
The land is premium – the price of purchase and access to land is high as the village is in the urban planning zone. So farmers here have a tough time expanding their cultivation areas and even have trouble finding affordable rental arrangements. Given the land constraint, livestock keeping is also under pressure. Farmers have difficulty finding enough feed for their animals (even in grass-abundant rainy seasons). People keep small livestock such as chicken, rabbit, goats and pigs and more affluent and able farmers rear dairy cows.
Being closer to town has both pros and cons for farmers. On the positive side, people can buy and sell their livestock more efficiently at the market (goats and chicken trade actively at the market, but cows and pigs are dealt from farmgate through intermediaries). The access to veterinary products and services are also relatively cheap (as on-call veterinarians have a short distance to travel and thus, lower transportation charges). On the other hand, theft is a serious issue for small livestock keepers. Many villagers have lost their animals and no longer keep any because of insecurity. Limited access to arable land is severe enough (and strategic) reason for some farmers in this village to keep their animal further away in another sector where farmland is more affordable and accessible. (They hire cowherd and farm labourer in this case)
Despite these challenges and higher cost of keeping animals in this village, farmers rear them mainly for two reasons: 1) alternative source of income and (financial) saving and 2) access to manure.
I’ve learned a lot from this village study, but the central question (my hypothesis question) remains open-ended: How do crop and livestock production integrations lead to production intensification and commercialisation for smallholder farmers in Rwanda?