The Rwandan government and farmers are in discussions over the possibility of setting up a cold storage facility for Irish potatoes. The facility would help deal with price fluctuations that expose producers to losses.
However, the operation and funding model for the storage facility is yet to be finalised. But, officials from the Ministry of Trade and Industry say farmers’ co-operatives, which recently took over the management of collection centres, will be the ones contributing towards setting up the facility.
Trade and Industry Minister Vincent Munyeshyaka said the government expects the storage facility to be feasible in two to three years. This is if the Irish potato trade is streamlined to help farmers raise enough profits for the investment.
He said the plan is part of on-going discussions his ministry had started with farmers and the agriculture ministry to find lasting solutions to the challenges hampering the potato value chain namely exploitation by middlemen.
“The plan can be realised in just two years based on the number of co-operatives and collection centres currently estimated at 200. Our analysis showed that they are strong and generate money daily, but a lot of it ends up in the wrong hands,” said Mr Munyeshyaka.
Storing bumper harvest
According to farmers’ representatives, the idea is to have a cold room facility that can store produce for up to six months.
This is would make it possible to store during a bumper harvest and shield farmers from having to sell at low prices.
President of Rwanda potato growers’ federation, Vincent Havugimana, said they would soon embark on an assessment on the current financial capacity of co-operatives to determine what they will contribute as part of their investment into the facility.
“We are looking to work with our partners and the government to secure support,” said Mr Havugimana.
The country has about 145 Irish potato co-operatives that are grouped in five zones of Gicumbi, Musanze, Burera, Nyabihu and Rubavu.
Farmers say the long-standing exploitation by middlemen denied their co-operatives from earning revenues, which meant most of them were not making substantial returns.
A recent restructuring has seen farmers’ co-operatives take over the management of collection centres countrywide. They also together with traders and wholesalers determine the prices.
The government recently moved to determine maximum farm-gate, wholesale and retail prices after farmers complained about middlemen, popularly known as “chercheurs,” making them sell their produce lower than their input costs.
This season the estimated farmers’ input cost is Rwf108 ($0.13) a kilogramme.
Farmers say Irish potatoes had been selling at between Rwf80 ($0.09) to Rwf120 ($0.14) a kilogramme, despite prices in Kigali ranging between Rwf300 ($0.35) to Rwf400 ($0.47) in November and December.
As of two weeks ago, Irish potato farmers were paid between Rwf135 ($0.16) to Rwf145 ($0.17) a kilo, while buyers at collection centres paid between Rwf150 ($0.18) and Rwf160 ($0.19) depending on the variety.
The Ministry of Trade set maximum retail prices at between Rwf215 ($0.25) and Rwf220 ($0.26) a kilo on December 29.
Irish potato remains one of the country’s priority staple crops and it is widely cultivated in the Northern and Western regions.