Rwandans are having to dig deeper into their pockets to pay for a basic meal following a sharp increase in food prices in the wake of a prolonged dry season that has hit parts of the country in the past four months.
Experts warn the situation is likely to push inflation figures to an all-time high.
The food producing areas in the west of the country experiencing the dry spell also suffered floods between April and May this year. The dry spell has also affected milk production in the country.
A survey of major markets in Kigali and interviews with several residents indicates that food prices have increased by as much as 100 per cent.
Though the National Bank of Rwanda is yet to publish figures on the effects of the four-month drought, the bank attributes the rising food prices to a poorer harvest compared with previous periods. The poor harvest is caused by the heavy rains, which destroyed crops, especially vegetables.
“Vegetable prices were much higher in 2012, increasing by 21.28 per cent in June 2012 from 8.26 per cent in December 2011,” said the latest monetary policy and financial stability statement presented by Claver Gatete, Governor of the National Bank of Rwanda.
The prices of staple foods such as rice, maize flour, cassava flour, beans, bananas and milk have been increasing.
With the prices of Irish potatoes going up by 100 per cent in some areas in the country, ordinary Rwandans have struck the foodstuff off their shopping lists.
“I stopped buying Irish potatoes because of the prices, which have doubled from Rwf150 three months ago to Rwf300 per kilogramme,” said Stephen Rwembeho in Rwamagana, a district in Eastern Rwanda.
Betty Dusabe, a trader in Muganga, Southern Province, said the price of locally produced and imported rice has increased by 28 per cent. However, rice imported from Pakistan has remained at the same price of Rwf700 per kilogramme in most parts of the country.
“At one time rice used to cost Rwf700 but now we have to fork out Rwf900 per kilo,” said Mrs Dusabe.
A Ministry of Agriculture official warns that the farm price of Irish potatoes may never drop below Rwf150 as Rwanda also exports to its neighbouring countries including Uganda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania.
In markets in Kigali, peas are trading at Rwf1,200 per kilogramme, up from Rwf800. The price of cassava flour, a staple of most families has increased from Rwf200 to Rwf300. The price of fresh beans has increased from Rwf500- Rwf700 per kilogramme while the dry beans cost between Rwf400 and Rwf600.
Government officials, talking to Rwanda Today, said Rwandans should not worry about the food shortage in some areas that has resulted in price hikes of major foods, saying that with the rains, now starting, the situation should improve. Should the situation get out of hand, the government will open its food reserves.
The reserves are part of the crop intensification programme started in 2007 to boost production of six priority crops including maize, wheat, rice, Irish potatoes, beans and cassava.
Data from the Ministry of Agriculture shows that through the programme, Rwanda has boosted its maize production. The country’s wheat production has increased six-fold, while that of Irish potatoes and cassava has tripled. The production of rice and beans has increased by 30 per cent in the past four years.
Figures show that inflation declined to 5.92 per cent in June from 8.18 per cent in March, and 8.34 per cent in December 2011.