Food processors need to help farmers improve soya harvests

Sunday February 12 2017

Fortified food company Africa Improved Foods is

Fortified food company Africa Improved Foods is finding it hard to get soya supplies, a key ingredient in its nutritional porridge formula for infants and expectant mothers. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA 

By Moses K Gahigi

Farmers and food processing companies need to streamline the growing and supply value chains of highly demanded crops like soya and maize, if they are to plug the biting scarcity of grains and legumes.

Premier fortified foods company Africa Improved Foods (AIF) is finding it hard to get soya, a key ingredient of its nutritional porridge formula for infants and expectant mothers.

The company sources almost 90 per cent of the unprocessed grain from outside the country.

The $60 million AIF plant will need approximately 23,000 tonnes of maize and 7,000 tonnes of soya to meet its 2017 target of producing at least 35,000 tonnes. However, much of the raw produce is likely to be bought from elsewhere as local farmers cannot meet the demand.

“We still have a large demand for soya. The supply from Rwanda is only around 20 per cent,” said Prosper Ndayiragije, the AIF country director.

The plant will need an annual supply of 30,000 tonnes of maize and 9,000 tonnes of soya in order to produce 45,000 tonnes of fortified food annually.

“Sourcing from local farmers has always been a key element of the enterprise. Rwandan farmers can unfortunately not satisfy the need of the factory,” read a statement from AIF.

Soya has been scarce for a while now. Mount Meru Soyco Ltd, a food oil processor in Kayonza, has been struggling to get soya beans for the plant since it was set up, sometimes forced to switch off the machines.

The government has been talking about giving farmers’ co-operatives access to a long term loan facility worth Rwf6 billion ($7.3 million) to increase soya productivity, but so far this has not yielded fruit.

Costly disconnection

Although 9,000 farmers’ co-operatives are involved in soya production, their yields seem to be just a drop in the ocean compared with the current demand for the cereal. The plant needs 200 metric tonnes of soya every day to satisfy its installed production capacity.

With the coming of AIF, new sources of raw grain and legumes are needed and the existing ones need assistance to increase production.

Matilda Uwizeye, the soya focal point at Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB), said there has been a costly disconnection between soya farmers and the companies, something that should be championed by soya processing plants.

“These companies need to plan and have a reliable model of engaging farmers, one which tries to support them at different levels, not contacting them only when they need soya.

“Be close to them, know their needs, and through working with their co-operatives there will be constant supply of soya,” she said.

She added that some farmers have been frustrated by the fact that the companies take a long time to pay them.

Being a delicate crop that requires a good balance between water and dryness, the unfavourable climatic conditions experienced last year affected soya production, especially in the Eastern province.

Irrigation and mechanisation technologies will have to be effected going forward to reduce dependency on rain, which has not only affected soya but also production of other key crops such as maize and beans.

AIF started production last December, and is now laying the ground to launch its flagship products Nootri Toto and Nootri Mama in a few weeks.