Why food processors are important for Rwanda’s sweet potato farming

By Elias Hakizimana.

In the past of Rwanda’ Agriculture, post-harvest handling was an issue, where a lot of yields could be lost due to lack of agriculture policy to take this into account. Gradually, with new policies of agriculture transformation, new strategies, techniques and innovations came to put an end on the matter.

It used to be worse when it comes to sweet potato harvest as these tubers had not enough market, being sold locally for food consumption and a big part of the produce could be given to domestic animals, others rotten and dumped.

With the new agricultural interventions by The Ministry of Agriculture (MNAGRI), Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) and Players in sweet potato value chain, the new variety dubbed Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes was introduced by Sweet Potato Action for Security and Health in Africa (SASHA), which multiplied 875,800 sweet potato vine cuttings and distributed them among farmers in Gakenke and Rulindo Districts.

However good produce of this variety was applauded, farmers have experienced post-harvest losses as they do not have enough markets apart from Entreprise Urwibutso, Nyirangarama.

The new statistics from RAB state over 1.186 million tonnes of sweet potatoes produced in 2018.  

Since 2015, Sweet potato farmers in Gakenke District have appealed to concerned authorities to construct a modern market for them to ease sale of their produce.

Angelique Uwamahoro, one of farmers of sweet potato cooperative (KOTEMU) in Rulindo District told The Inspirer that she harvested 1,2 tons of sweet potatoes in the last season and a half of them was damaged due to lack of markets.

“Most of the time our produce is damaged due to poor post-harvest handling techniques, we do not have markets and we cannot store them for a long time. Other challenges we experience include pests and other diseases that attack vines,” Uwamahoro said.

KOTEMU cooperative has 13 members of whom 11 are women and 2 men.

Farmers say that agro processors are very important to try reduce post-harvest losses as currently one investor Entreprise Urwibutso owned by Sina Gerard is the only one who tries to buy part of their produce to make Biscuits dubbed ‘AKARABO’. 

Sina Gerard, the Managing Director of Entreprise Urwibutso/Nyirangarama showcasing AKARABO Biscuits from sweet potatoes.

“A sweet potato is a cash crop apart from being a food commodity. Myself, I grow sweet potatoes in various districts of Rwanda, I can name Muhanga, Rulindo and Musanze Districts. I found it good to produce Biscuits from this crop so that we share with those who have not yet tasted a potato,” Sina Gerard said.

Speaking to The Inspirer, Prosper Murindwa, the Vice Mayor in Charge of Finance and Economic Development of Rulindo District said that sweet potatoes are grown in all sectors of the district and that they are growing two varieties: KABODI and VITA which are rich in nutrients.

He said that the district will partner with Entreprise Urwibutso to build an efficient store to ease post-harvest management of their crop in order to tackle the problem of wasted yield.

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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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