When the Australia’s leading private agribusiness company- ICM Australia, offered to invest in rice production last year, through joint partnership with the Rwandan government, hopes raised high among rice farmers- in the hope that they would reap from the crop.
But a few months on the ground, we’re hearing the least expected; rice farmers complain over low prices, The New Times Thursday February 7.
They complained that they are paid paltry Frw150 a kilo of raw rice. After the complaint, they accepted to add Frw10. The farmers’ bargain for an increase by at least Frw50 was thus defeated.
Matters were not helped when the representative of ICM at the meeting, Des Whellan insisted that the prices being offered are ‘reasonable’
While promising to address the issue, Minister Anasthase Murekezi, of Agriculture, advised both parties to restrain from exploitative tendency; but he indicated that the ministry would intervene; incase there was breach of contract signed between the farmers and the company.
Ironically, the farmers have to endure with the low prices as long as it is what was agreed upon in the initial contract.
However, assuming it is discovered that there is exploitation of the farmers yet the prices in the contract were meant to remain at that, what then would be the solution? Could there be a second thought that the farmers may have accepted the low prices earlier, without knowledge of what the work would entail.
If yes, the farmers’ representatives may be held responsible for blindly signing the contract without comprehending the terms.
If we are to go by the June 26 2007 article published in The New Times-in which the ICM chairman Dowg Shears promised equitable sharing of returns from rice production, at the launch of their company, then the company has failed on their promise.
"We want to make the sector [rice production] very profitable and share the dividends with members of cooperatives," Shears was quoted in an interview last year at Serena Hotel.
In the same article, Shears is quoted saying farmers would get income from two sources; from rice production and from joint venture [dividends]
But is this the profitability he was referring to?
The firm promised to provide a ‘leading’ brand of rice on the market in the country, by applying modern and highly industrious methods of production to improve on the yields per unit area; to cut some of the market share of imported rice.
But the yields from last season were poor which Whellan admitted at the meeting, and blamed it on the brand they planted. Yet, they had earlier noted that their production tests had projected high yields.
If farmers apply same costs and energy, ignorant of the brand of rice planted, only to return poor yields, who would be held responsible? ICM should translate their high technology they promised while signing the joint venture, and experience, into improved production.
Considering what it takes to tend to rice gardens, and the current market prices of shelled rice; between Frw500 and 700, then one would easily conclude that at least somebody is being exploited, but who is exploiting who?
The farmers’ cry about apparent exploitation must be taken seriously, because the government encourages people to join cooperatives in order to speak with one voice among other factors.
ICM, established to work with cooperative societies, works with about 18,000 farmers in the districts of Rwamagana in eastern and Cyangugu in western province, should one therefore assume that all these people are enduring the low prices because of the contract their leaders signed.
But whether there is exploitation or not, the farmers should be helped by the line ministries to add value to their produce; in order to gain the bargaining power and fetch higher prices.