Chili farmers in Gatsibo District are in a dilemma after failing to secure a market for their produce. Previously these farmers used to sell their produce to buyers from Kigali on mutual consent without contracts but, this season, their regular buyers did not show up. This unpredicted state of affairs is causing stress as the farmers are counting losses. The New Times over the weekend saw a fairly big quantity of dried chili in the backyard of one of the affected farmers. Most of her produce, however, was yet to be harvested. ALSO READ: Rwanda’s dry chili to debut on Chinese market Rehema Nyiramukesha, one of the chili farmers in Mugera cell, Gatsibo sector, told The New Times that she decided to invest in chili farming thinking her produce would eventually have buyers, only to be shocked. “I have a harvest from a half an acre, I invested Rwf2.5 million to take care of the seeds until harvest time. I put in money, work and time. The produce is good and ready for sale but now no one is buying. We are all very worried we don’t have customers as of today,” Nyiramukesha said. The farmers do not have any contract with buyers, Nyiramukesha acknowledged, and they are not even enrolled in an insurance scheme – a fact they regret as they are now incurring losses. They had joined together in 10 clusters, of 10 to 25 members each, and ordered high quality seeds from Sustainable Agricultural Intensification and Food Security Project (SAIP) project, followed agronomists recommendations and planted chili on more than 30 hectares of land vetted in a zone set aside for fruits and vegetables in Mugera cell. They put in a lot of work and, luckily, registered a good harvest. Explaining why they had cultivated chili on a relatively large scale, Emmanuel Karegeya, another chili farmer told The New Times that they were seduced by the huge profits earned from previous seasons especially since they “had never lacked market before.” “Last season was good. We had a market for our produce and this attracted more farmers to plant chili on a large scale. This season, no buyer has contacted us. Those who used to buy our produce told us that their contracts expired. Unfortunately, we did not even have contracts with them, we are here stranded with our harvest,” Karegeya said. For Odeth Mukamutara, another chili farmer, the situation is even more challenging because of the vagaries of weather she had not planned for. She said: “I am harvesting now but I still have another depot of chili waiting for buyers at home. Drying it and covering it has been challenging in this rainy season. Recently, the rains caught me off guard and 200 kilos of my chili got spoiled.” Besides losses incurred due to lack of a reliable market, the farmers’ planning for the next season is also in a weak position as they “now don’t have enough money to invest.” “I don’t know what to do with this hervest. Next season will be more challenging because I might not get the finances to invest. Farming is done in series; you have to invest in the preparations of land, the planting, weeding and others. Next season will be tight.” said Jonas Mihigo, another chili farmer. The Gatsibo District Vice Mayor in charge of Economic Development, Jean Leonard Sekanyange, said the District knows these farmers’ plight and is trying to do advocacy so they can get buyers. In the meantime, he advised farmers to consider signing contracts with buyers before investing in businesses. Sekanyange said: “We received their request recently, but they never told us in the beginning about their initiative of chili farming. We would have recommended otherwise. However, we asked them to share contacts of the previous buyers as we also try discussions with other buyers. We recommend farmers to engage in chili farming when they are sure of the market.” Sekanyange added that farmers should consider engaging in crop insurance schemes available because in cases like these they get backup. Challenge persists On Tuesday, February 7, the KAIGA 8 cooperative chairperson, Cyprien Turatsinze, said their predicament was not yet over. According to him, currently they estimate that three tons of their produce gets wasted every week due to lack of buyers, “a challenge that still persists today.” Turatsinze had planted chili on 20 acres and it all got spoiled before he got a buyer. He said he had harvested up to 1.5 tons of chili. Turatsinze now blames everything on all members of the cooperative because they never looked for the market before planting chili. He said they all now remembered to look for a market in the following season as more chili farmers are applying to join the cooperative. Apart from chili, French beans and egg plants are among other vegetables planted in the same agricultural zone of Migera cell by the same cooperative – KAIGA 8. Its members said that chili farming has been a profitable business despite the challenges they faced this season. “I could pay school fees for my children on time due to income from chili. Each one of us has a story to tell about how chili farming helped us develop, economically. However much it is unpredictable due to the fact that chili prices change often depending on buyers, along with limited buyers in some cases, I can assure you it is a profitable business.” said Nyiramukesha. According to the farmers in KAIGA 8, they previously sold more than 15 tons of chili to different buyers. Previously, a lucrative market for dried-chili-from-Rwanda has been available, following different market contracts signed abroad. Chili is exported to European countries, India and China, among other places.