Assessing the value of diverse cropping systems under a new agricultural policy environment in Rwanda
In Rwanda, farmers’ traditional farming systems based on inter cropping and varietal mixtures are designed to meet a variety of livelihood objectives and withstand risks associated with fluctuation in market and agroclimatic conditions. However, these mixed systems have been disappearing since 2008 when government mandated intensification strategies. In this paper we use a mixed methods approach to evaluate inter cropping and sole cropping systems against farmers’ criteria for success: yield, market value, contribution to nutritional quality, and landuse efficiency. We used qualitative interviews to understand the criteria by which farmers evaluate cropping systems, and data from crop trials to assess common bean ((Phaseolus vulgaris L.) and maize (Zea mays L.)) sole crops and inter crops against those criteria. We found that an improved inter cropping system tends to outperform the governmentmandated system of alternating solecropped bean and maize seasonbyseason, on all four of the criteria tested. Although Rwanda’s agricultural intensification strategy aims to improve rural livelihoods through agricultural modernization, it fails to acknowledge the multiple and currently nonreplaceable benefits that diverse cropping systems provide, particularly food security and risk management. Agricultural policies need to be based on a better understanding of smallholders’ objectives and constraints. Efforts to improve farming systems require innovative and inclusive approaches that enable adaptation to the socioecological context.