Market sought for surplus 500,000 tons of maize, beans

While farmers have seen out put go up in the past few years, there is now need to plug gaps in post-harvest handling and market link­ages to enable them reap maxi­mum benefits from their produce.

Small silos like this one should be replaced by bulk storage facilities. (photo Eric Didier Karinganire)

Small silos like this one should be replaced by bulk storage facilities. (photo Eric Didier Karinganire)

Emmanuel Birikunzira of Cyumve Sector, Musanze dis­trict is one of the farmers whose production has significantly in­creased since he started planting improved seeds.

“I now harvest over 400kgs of maize where I used to get 70kgs,” he says. He adds that he can now save over Frw 700,000 per year when he gets good market for his produce.

Such increased production is not limited to Musanze district or northern Rwanda.

In Eastern province, for in­stance, there are large-scale maize, rice and banana producers. Big plantations of Irish potatoes can also be seen in some parts of Rut­siro and Karongi districts.

As a result of various govern­ment programs in irrigation, mechanization, land use con­solidation, and use of improved seeds and fertilizers, the country now has a big surplus of maize and beans.

Agnes Kalibata, the Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resourc­es last week announced a pro­jected surplus of 300,000 tons of maize and 200,000 tons of beans this year.

Production is no longer a prob­lem, but surplus is. Without dry­ing and storage facilities or a guaranteed market, the country’s bounteous yields deteriorate and are unable to command higher prices.

“We are not totally sure of get­ting buyers and the price of maize is still low,” said Birikunzira. Cur­rently, a kilogram of maize is at Frw 225. He recalls with nostalgia when farmers used to sell maize at Frw 350 per kg when the for­mer Rwanda Agriculture Devel­opment Authority, now integrat­ed in Rwanda Agriculture Board, was engaged in maize purchase.

“For us we would be happy if we get facilities to keep our pro­duce safe since we are not sure of get buyers immediately after har­vesting,” Birikunzira said.

Kalibata, says that she under­stands the farmers’ concerns but called upon to private sector to exploit the opportunities avail­able in the agricultural value chain.

“At this stage, involvement of the private sector can be one of the solutions to the development of the whole chain by processing products to add value, construct­ing modern grain bulking cen­ter in order to complement what small-holder farmers are doing,” the minister said.

Ugandans

Yet the minister also considers as crucial the engagement of the local private sector to deal with the market linkage. “Ugandans have been coming and taking our produce to South Sudan and Ke­nya; so why can’t our local busi­ness people do the same?” she added.

There are virtually no modern warehouses owned by private lo­cal people.

In Kirehe district of Eastern Province, the only grain bulking center in the district, Post Harvest and Handling Storage, is owned by Entreprise Nkubili Alfred & Sons (ENAS), an agricultural firm in Rwanda specializing in buying and selling agricultural products.

This center, serves more than 18,000 farmers. It links village ag­gregation centers to large-scale warehouses and regional mar­kets – giving farmers access to a commercial market for maize and beans.

By offering proper storage facil­ities, it enables farmers sell their produce when prices are go up.

The center also provides essen­tial drying and cleaning services to improve the quality of grain, so it can command a higher price.

Minagri projects a surplus of 300,000 tons of maize this year. (photo Eric Didier Karinganire)

Minagri projects a surplus of 300,000 tons of maize this year. (photo Eric Didier Karinganire)

Therefore, the government ef­forts to handle the situation, ex­plains Kalibata, include organiz­ing farmers to form cooperatives.

However, majority of coopera­tive societies in Rwanda are still young and face shortages of tech­nical skills and finance. Many only have volunteer boards and few paid staff, hence a great need of extra support.

Kalibata promises ministry support to cooperatives that may be facing some challenges. She says that the ministry has estab­lished a post-harvest taskforce – a unit that works with cooperatives to reduce post-harvest losses, cre­ate additional storage and con­nect farmers to storage facilities.

The taskforce aims to reduce losses from 23% to 15 % especially for maize, rice and beans, accord­ing to information from the min­istry.

“We are committed and well equipped to properly handle the yields. We can’t let our pro­duction get lost while we have enough market,” she said.

The success of this will actu­ally impact on national develop­ment since agriculture drives the Rwandan economy and accounts for 80% of employment, 39% of GDP, and 63% of foreign ex­change earnings.

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