Rwanda growers, processing plant trade blame over tomatoes

Sunday June 11 2017

Tomato growers in Rwanda and the sole tomato

Tomato growers in Rwanda and the sole tomato paste processing plant are trading blame after the latter suspended activities three months. PHOTO | FILE 

By LEONCE MUVUNYI

Tomato growers across the country and the sole tomato paste processing plant are trading blame after the latter suspended activities three months.

Some growers accuse the plant, owned by the Rwandan Tomato Treatment Society ( SORWATOM), of low capacity.

Shadrack Zigirumugabe, who has been growing tomatoes for 30 years in Rwamagana district, said even before the recent closure, the plant could not off take all the farmers output over the past three years.

“Around one-third of the tomatoes I supplied was returned to me, not because they did not meet quality benchmarks, but the limited processing capacity of the factory,” said Zigirumugabe.

Internal sources say SORWATOM suspended production following a sharp drop in supplies during the dry spell at the beginning of the year.
Others say the plant located in Gasabo district mostly relied on tomatoes from surrounding districts.

Farmers representatives recently reported their concerns to legislators at a presentation by the Civil Society Agriculture Forum on the coming budget.  

Florence Kayisharaza, who represents farmers from Nyanza district, called for government intervention in unreliable markets for vegetables, especially tomatoes.

“We are asking the government to scale up the capacity for processing tomatoes or expand the market to reduce losses by farmers’ losses,” she said.

Despite the current supply problems, growers want a second processing plant set up.

“During the last harvest, the factory didn’t pay us on agreed terms and we were left with no choice but to sell to the surrounding local markets,” Daphrose Mukandamira, a tomatoes grower in the Southern Province said.

The resulting glut has led to sharp drops of prices for tomatoes from around Rwf700 for a kilogram to around Rwf150.

Contacted for comment, Ms Angie Tambineza, the communication specialist at the Ministry of Agriculture, declined, citing displeasure with earlier reports on the sector by this newspaper.