Farmers in dilemma as factories reject their rice over ‘poor quality variety’

Elias Hakizimana.

Farmers across the country are decrying lack of quality rice varieties as they want to extend the production, but their target is hindered by shortage of quality long grain rice variety, which factories appreciate when processing.

Figures from the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MINICOM) state over 5,000 tons of short grain rice variety that is produced in Rwanda.

This is called ‘Kigori’ and is the most available to farmers, despites its produce remain in stores for a long time as factories do not like it.

This happened even during the last season according to Antoine Ntirushwa, president of Rice cooperative union in Huye District.

Ntirushwa said that they grow rice on 684 hectares but still face various challenges including lack of seedlings.

Their union is composed of 16 cooperatives with 6,754 farmers. One big challenge as he highlighted is lack of good rice species that are attractive to consumers as currently they grow short grain rice.

“We do not complain of the quantity but we lack good species of rice that our consumers need. We grow short grain and we believe our clientele can increase when we have other varieties of rice,” Ntirushwa said.

Other challenges they use to face are disasters such as floods during rainy season.

Rwanda Agriculture and animal resources development Board states that over 12,000 hectares of the marshlands in the country host a variety of rice with an average of 5.8 tons per a hectare

The productivity of rice has seen a tremendous increase from 83,338 in 2017 to 113,880 tons in 2018 as per the figures from MINAGRI.

Kigori is the most grown variety in Rwanda and being the short grain variety is described by farmers as of ‘poor quality’despite giving relatively high yields per hectare.

The Ministry of Trade also said that short grain rice is not competitive at the market as comparing to imported long grain rice variety.

60 per cent of rice grown in Rwanda is ‘Kigori’ which is among short grain rice varieties but consumers do not like it, citing poor quality reason.

“It fails to compete with imported rice from Pakistan, Tanzania and India,” said Dative Mukaniyonzima , the Commodity Value Chain Trade Specialist at the Ministry of trade and Industry.

Currently, Rwanda has about 24 rice processing factories, of which three big ones are located in Bugesera, Gatsibo and Kirehe Districts.

Mukaniyonzima said that the government is enrolling efforts by draining the marshlands to introduce long grain rice varieties including ‘Gikungu’ and ‘Buryohe’ that are under intensification and they are expected to be competitive at the local market with the imported variety.

She noted that even the price will increase for the new variety even to exceed one of the imported rice, giving the difference of Rwf 2,000 per a sack.

She said that the Ministry helps farmers to get connected with processing factories but they still lack quality rice. “The long grain rice variety can be also exported to neighboring countries,” she said.

The local market demand is still higher as only 5 to 10 % of local long rice grain goes to East African Countries.

Hope as development partners intervene

ICCO Cooperation with ICCO Terrafina Microfinance in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation is implementing the Strengthening African Rural Smallholders (STARS) program in Rwanda, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and Senegal to support rural farmers (50% of who are women) and this gives a comfort to rice farmers as it is expected to help them cope with such problems in rice value chain.

Over 210,000 smallholder farmers are expected to benefit from ICCO Cooperation programme in countries where it operates including Rwanda, Senegal, Ethiopia and Burkinafaso, getting access to market after they improved on the seed varieties.

The five-year programme (2016-2020) addresses challenges that smallholder farmers face such as lack of credit, minimal access to markets, and limited access to appropriate financial products.  

“We hope to get basic seedlings with the support of Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) and we will use machines to avoid post-harvest losses,” Ntirushwa said.

This rice cooperative union last year rejected the produce that was damaged after long time stay in stores. However, they use to have buying agreements with factories unlike this loss can sometimes happen.

Patrick Birasa, the head of the ICCO Cooperation programme in Rwanda said that they support farmers in the value chain to ensure they access markets. He noted that the union expect to get more 44,000 smallholder farmers in the next five years.

“We are gathering our efforts together to handle the issue of market access by looking for the new variety of rice that consumers will need to buy without complain. We believe after handling this, rice produce will attract consumers at the market,” Birasa said.

ICCO is a global development organization working with smallholders, agripreneurs and their organisations, strengthening small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to realize sustainable agricultural systems.

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Elias Hakizimana

Elias Hakizimana, CEO&Founder of The Inspirer Ltd,(www.rwandainspirer.com) is a professional Rwandan Journalist with Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Communication, received from University of Rwanda’s College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS) in 2014. He served various media houses in Rwanda including Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (RBA) in 2013 and became passionate with English Online and Print Media Publications where he exercised his talent as a Freelance News Reporter for The New Times, The Independent, The Rwanda Focus, Panorama and more before he became a Self-Entrepreneur as the CEO and Founder of The Inspirer Limited in early 2017.

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