Lack of access to milk collection facilities is forcing diary farmers to sell milk cheaply to middlemen, incurring losses.
Farmers in the far-flung areas of Rubavu, Ngororero and Rutsiro are forced to transport milk and its byproducts for long distances to reach the market for better prices.
Those who cannot afford to transport their milk are incurring losses as they are forced to sell to middlemen at low prices and sometimes on credit too.
“The risk is that we may go unpaid for months, and it becomes difficult to claim the arrears. Many of the middlemen pay on a monthly basis but it is hard to differentiate between who will keep the promise and who will not because sometimes you can fail to trace them,” Enock Rudatinywa said.
While farmers in areas located closer to milk collection centres get paid Rwf130 per litre, the farmers in remote upcountry areas where most farms are found sell it for as low as Rwf80 to Rwf60 per litre to middlemen.
The price of milk drops further in the rainy season when the roads become inaccessible, causing potential buyers to shun the remote areas or impose meagre fees.
“We are obliged to sell to middlemen at any price because we have nowhere to take our produce,” Innocent Zirikana, a cattle keeper in Gishwati said as he led a group of seven young men transporting plastic milk containers from his farm to a collection centre four-hours away in Rubavu.
“We would be happy if the farm gate price for all the farmers was the same regardless of where your farm is located, because all of us incur similar costs to keep our cattle,” he said.
Available figures indicate that only 20 per cent of the milk produced in the country is processed, with the rest believed to be sold raw and informally directly to consumers.
According to farmers’ co-operatives, there was hope that earlier plans by the government to put up a milk processing plant and cooling centres in Gishwati and the bordering zones of Ngororero and Rutsiro would put an end to some of the challenges.
However, the facilities are yet to be built.
Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) officials however said efforts are being made to address the twin problem of collection centres and inaccesible roads in the area with a feeder road rehabilitation project underway.
“Milk collection centres are still few, but the issue is being addressed along with undertaking other initiatives that are aimed at strengthening value addition as well as raising the consumption per capita,” said Dr Fabrice Ndayisenga, RAB’s animal production and extension specialist.
Dr Ndayisenga said that dairy farmers may expect positive changes with the coming of Mukamira Dairy, a local milk processing plant with a 80,000 litre capacity per day.
RAB officials argue that farmers need to work together and find own transport facilities for their produce in order to wipe out middlemen from the value chain.