Brian Nicholas Neza is Sustainable Land Use fellow who recently joined cohort two of the African Food Fellowship in Rwanda. He has been leading teams that design and carry out projects in food security, nutrition, good agronomic practices, and conservation agriculture.
In this interview, he shares about his work and the changes he would like to see in Rwanda’s food system
Who is Brian, the food systems leader?
I am a driven individual, passionate about problem-solving and learning, especially around food security and sustainable agriculture. I hold a Bachelor's degree in Animal Science from the University of Rwanda, and I am currently working on my dissertation for an MBA from the University of Suffolk. I have served smallholder farmers in Rwanda in various capacities for more than ten years. I am an expert trainer in the farmer field school methodology, conservation agriculture, and adult learning, and I also lead a project on food security. My motivation is to build a better and sustainable future for my family and country.
Tell us about your work and the passion for conservation agriculture?
Conservation agriculture is one of the most context-appropriate climate-smart agricultural practices for Rwanda. Its three primary concepts — permanent soil cover, limited tillage, and crop rotation — are among the simplest measures farmers may take to increase their climate change resilience. I am currently managing a 5-year initiative that attempts to increase smallholder farmers' food security through conservation agriculture. Although boosting conservation agriculture is the project's primary objective, it also addresses food insecurity and improves participants' financial literacy.
It includes essential activities such as village savings and loan associations (VSLAs) to promote access to credit and financial inclusion, gender and family conflict management training to address gender dynamics and gender-based barriers, and nutrition training.
What are Farmer Field Schools and what role do they play in food systems transformation?
Farmer Field Schools are groups of 20 to 30 farmers who come together to experiment on a study plot, learn and adopt solutions to a common challenge. I believe they are among the most effective strategies for transferring technology to producers in food systems since they boost the adoption of skills and practices. Farmers' knowledge and skills are some of the most limiting components in our food systems — the more transformation that occurs at the farm level, the more food that enters the systems because of greater yields and decreased losses.
Tell us about the report you published on Institutionalizing Farmer Field Schools, and why does it matter?
The report formed part of a worldwide examination of Agriculture Human Capital Investment (AHCI) endeavors, and it showcased findings from a case study on the institutionalization of investment in Farmer Field Schools (FFS). The case study centered on the Twigire Muhinzi, a homegrown national extension system in Rwanda.
It provided evidence for the need to invest more in human capital especially through farmer field school approach to build technical abilities including: livestock nutrition and management, cropping systems, good agronomic practices, women's empowerment, market and value chains, as well as savings and credit and market analysis.
What changes would you like to see in Rwanda’s food system?
I want Rwanda's food system to become more efficient by maximising the utilisation of our resources, particularly our young population and available land. Even if population density and the quality of our soils provide formidable obstacles, it is feasible for us to make a change and use our land more efficiently and sustainably.
Looking back on your journey, what would you do differently?
Using context-specific programmes, I would do more to support youth in agriculture and encourage others to participate. Young people have the ability to solve many of our problems because they are more accepting of change and technology advancements. I believe that if the food systems of Rwanda and Africa are to undergo the necessary changes, we must make these opportunities more appealing and accessible to young people. I do not think I have done enough in my work to include young people and, therefore, this is my major focus for the immediate future.
You have just joined the African Food Fellowship. How do you think this is going to shape you and your journey to success?
I have had ideas swimming around in my head about how to bring about the change I desire; I believe this is the setting I required. The Fellowship provides a wonderful environment comprised of professors and fellow leaders from a variety of backgrounds who can provide me with the necessary tools and challenge my earlier notions, thereby supporting me in tackling complex issues.