Harvesting activities were generally concluded in February and now farmers are in post-harvest handling and storage process. But even before harvesting starts, farmers had already started appealing to the government to help them get ready market for maize bumper harvest they were expecting in February.
For instance, Rwanda’s daily publication, The New Times, sometime back reported that Rwamagana district was projecting to harvest about 60,000 tonnes of maize from 40,000 tonnes they had recorded in the previous season; the increase that local officials attributed to the land use consolidation program and subsidized inputs under the government’s Farmers Support Program.
“We planted maize on 20,000 hectares, and expect to harvest 60,000 tonnes. Farmers will consume 20,000 tonnes and sell 40,000 tonnes. The total sales will earn farmers over Rwf4 billion,” the district mayor was quoted saying at the time, while the district agriculture officer was quoted saying that the improved harvest was as a result of modern farming methods that have lately been adopted by the farmers.
To start with, I first of all must say that the bumper maize produce is good news to hear because this is tangible evidence proving that something is being done to increase productivity. By simple calculations, in Rwamagana district alone, production increased by more than 33% last season. It’s a good trend because in the past, you would hear farmers decrying meager produce instead.
On the other side, media reports indicated that price fluctuations were the main cause for farmers to worry about the bumper maize produce. This is a result of the market forces for sure: when there is a huge supply, price goes down and when the demand is high, price increases. And that’s normal on market.
At this stage, what is important to me is that we should not be limited there and let the produce sold at a low price while we’ve invested a lot along the production process. This is where the private sector should come in and take the opportunity.
Now the solution should be to focus on adding value to whatever we produce. This should be done through agro processing – and some farmers that I met in the past convinced me that Rwandan farmers can make it.
Processing plants act as incentives for farmers to produce more as value added to their products enhances their chances of finding markets as well as increasing their profits. Some farmers are increasing their profit margin between 30% and 40% thanks to agro processing.
For maize case, for instance, agroprocessing can allow farmers to diversify products ranging from milling grain for maize bread to animal feed products that can, in turn, help improve animal production resources. This is a real complete cycle of agricultural value chain we intend to achieve.
How to reach there?
One of the things that the government has been striving to achieve is to encourage Rwandans doing similar things, farmers inclusive, to form cooperatives not only to facilitate their capacity building, but also to give them a strong voice when it comes to negotiating any particular deal.
In our case, farmer cooperatives can be the right entities that can take the agroprocessing to the next level. Through cooperatives, members cannot only be provided with necessary skills easily where applicable, but can also raise funds/access finance easily to run their processing activities.
On the other side, vocational and technical education that is being promoted in Rwanda can generate a great solution. This means that students can be made aware of the opportunity and start thinking about innovative ideas and come up with some designs of machines that can help in shaping our agroprocessing industry. Thus the young graduates can become easily entrepreneurs, generate jobs while contributing to the development of our agro-processing industry.
Obviously agro-processing will not only help farmers get more from their produce but will also empower farmers to take full control of the market by only releasing what the market can absorb and retaining the excess for other profitable uses while generating jobs for youth.