When government officials and partners launched Nyabihu Potato Factory with an aim to add value to potato produce earlier in the year, farmers received the development with excitement.
They expected to get a market for their produce and get employed in the factory. However, in the same month, the factory closed abruptly for lack of proper packaging materials.
It only reopened this month when the operators managed to get packaging materials from the Netherlands.
Initially, officials had said the plant had capacity to produce four potato products, namely; crisps, chips, whole peeled potato, and whole cleaned potatoes for sale to super markets, schools and other places.
But, currently, the factory processes only crisps among the four products. This means it processes far below its capacity.
The factory processes one tonne of Irish potatoes per day, which is less, compared to 1.5 tonnes it should be processing per hour.
According to Evariste Hakizimana, the factory’s managing director, shortage of packaging materials was the main problem.
“We had a problem of packaging materials because the materials we use are degradable materials, which are not available on the local market,” said Hakizimana.
“We later found them in the Netherlands but it took us long because of preliminary works such as designing and developing the packages.
“As a startup company, we are focusing on crisps and we have the capacity of processing one tonne of potatoes into crisps per day but our capacity is 1.5tonnes per hour, meaning that we can process 9tonnes per day,” he added
“In the next one month, we plan to go to the field to collect data from consumers so that we can know the best products to focus on,” said Hakizimana” he added
“Other challenges include lack of enough good quality potatoes but we’re optimistic the issue will be resolved since it was discussed among all concerned parts”.
The plant was constructed by the Ministry of Trade and Industry, through the National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA), in partnership with Business Development Fund and a farmers’ cooperative in Nyabihu.
According to Emmanuel Hategeka, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry for Trade and Industry, they are optimistic that most challenges had been addressed and that the factory would function to its full capacity as time goes by.
“You cannot start production 100 per cent; however, the management needs to put in more efforts to market their products and we have to give them that period so that they may even reach the target or expand their services,” said Hategeka.
He said it is part of the government’s initiative to have small and medium enterprises in various areas to help add value to crops and supporting such initiatives was the ministry’s priority.
However, farmers said they are yet to see the importance of the factory and were looking forward to working with it to benefit more.
“We are yet to have our production sold to the factory and we have not received any request to supply. Maybe the factory is first using the little they get from the local market; however, we know it is there and are ready to supply them,” said Isaac Nzabarinda, the president of Irish Potato farmers cooperatives in the area.