Banana processing industries get boost from research, innovation fund

INES Ruhengeri receives a grant for the assessment of pesticide residues in fresh tomatoes supply chain in Rwanda project. Photos by Michel Nkurunziza.

Businesses in banana processing are set to improve technologies and quality in production of beverages following a Rwf50 million grant from National Research and Innovation Fund.

The fund which was launched mid last year aims at supporting local innovations as well as research for development in the country.

Last week the fund awarded grants worth Rwf550 million to research projects under “Excellent Research Grant” initiative.

The support was provided to projects with ideal solutions to societal problems through research, innovation and technology advancement.

Grace Irakiza (centre) receives a grant for implementing enhancement of production technologies, quality and competitiveness of Rwandan banana beverage products project. 

National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA) is one of the institutions that got the grant for implementing the project, “Enhancement of processing technologies, quality and competitiveness among banana beverages in Rwanda”.

Grace Irakiza, the Standards and Certification Specialist at NIRDA, told Business Times that the project aims at handling post-harvest losses for banana crops by upgrading and increasing banana processing industries.

She said that Banana is a traditional crop and priority crop for food security in Rwanda grown by many but there is no enough value addition to mitigate post-harvest losses.

Overall, the banana sub-sector covers about 23 per cent of the entire cultivated land in Rwanda, estimated at 900,000 hectares.

Rwanda produced over 759,690 tonnes of cooking banana in 2018 from over 724,540 tonnes in 2017.

Cooking banana accounts for over 40 per cent of banana plantation in Rwanda while the rest is for beverages.

Studies show that post-harvest food losses are currently estimated to be between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of total food production depending on the type of products and the storage conditions

Despite the existence of industries investing in handling post-harvest losses through adding value of bananas, NIRDA’s study shows that about 70 per cent of banana processing industries still rely on manual practices, 19 per cent of them are semi-automated while only 1 per cent of them are fully automated.

Studies further show that lack of access to technology remains a key challenge to the sector, which is characterised by low levels of automation, outdated practices leading to poor productivity and output quality

“Even though we see more businesses seeking to invest in banana processing especially banana wine, they still lack access to processing technologies and skills for quality products. Lack of quality could affect consumers. So as we want to provide capacity building for the processors, facilitate technology transfer which means we will develop technologies to improve banana farming practices in villages,” said Irakiza.

She explained that they will also develop diagnostic tool for self-assessment for the processors.

“We conducted research and found there is an issue of bad flavor in banana wine which must be improved to attract consumers. We will also set up platforms for SMES in the banana value chain so that the banana wine and beverages products are internationally traded,” she said.

Other research projects funded

banana processing project include one of 11 projects that were last week funded by National Council for Science and Technology in a bid to implement National Research and Innovation Fund goals after being launched last year.

The projects are in agriculture, health, and information communication applied to health to the tune of around Rwf50 million.

The awarded projects were selected from 97 applications from public and private universities and research institutions.

The successful proposals are from researchers affiliated with the University of Rwanda, Institut d’Enséignement Supérieur de Ruhengeri (INES), Mount Kenya University, National Industrial and Research Development Agency, Rwanda Biomedical Centre and Christian University of Rwanda.

Francois Niyonzima, the Deputy Vice Chancellor of INES Ruhengeri said that they will improve research into over 100 tree species for traditional herbal medicine.

He said they got grants for three projects namely; one for herbal medicine (Phytochemistry and anti-bacterial analyses of medicinal plants in Rwanda), assessment of hydro-meteorological hazards and associated risks for the urban and rural population: toward improved water and land management in Mukungwa and Sebeya catchments as well as assessment of pesticide residues in fresh tomatoes supply chain in Rwanda.

Another call proposal targeting innovators attracted more than 500 proposals and the winners will be announced once a review is completed according to officials.

Ag. Executive Secretary of National Council for Science and Technology Felly Migambi said that the established fund has to be replenished.

He encouraged Rwandan scientists and engineers to take advantage of the fund for research and innovations

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

ADVERTISEMENT