Farmers and other agriculture players have reiterated the need for investing in post-harvest handling technologies to enable storage of produce for a long-term and add value. This, they say, will help avoid losses incurred when farmers sell at giveaway prices due to shortage of market.
The need has been highlighted as many farmers are counting losses due to market difficulties linked to the COVID-19 lockdown.
Joseph Gafaranga, the Secretary-General of Imbaraga Farmers Organisation, said that the lockdown left them with a number of lessons.
“The main challenge that taught us a lesson is that many farmers lacked market for their produce. And even those who tried to sell, sold their produce at giveaway prices.
“For instance, the price of a kilogramme of tree tomatoes dropped from Rwf600 to Rwf300. The same trend happened to onions, Irish potatoes, milk, eggs, chicken meat …because hotels, restaurants, and others were not operating as usual,” he said.
He stressed that if farmers had post-harvest technologies, they could store their produce for a long time and sell it even after lockdown when the situation stabilizes.
Gafaranga said that farmers face double consequences because they often buy inputs at a high cost yet their produce that gives them income had been sold at a comparatively low price.
“There are a number of lessons we have learnt. One is that farmers should prepare agricultural season very early, second, we have to diversify the market and third is that we need to invest in post-harvest techniques since vegetables, meat, milk, and many others went bad,” he said.
The other lesson, he said, is that the government should increase strategic reserves so that they buy farmers’ produce at satisfactory prices and store them for a long-term period as a way of cushioning farmers against losses.
Eugene Rwibasira, the Executive Secretary of Rwanda Development Organization also said that, as a lesson, the private sector should tap into the business opportunity and invest in post-harvest handling technologies.
“They should invest in cold rooms, warehouses, and many post-harvest techniques,” he said.
He said that due to lack of storage facilities, maize produce was also sold at poor prices.
“The price reduced to Rwf190 per Kilogramme. The issue of storing the produce needs to be addressed. The chicken that grow in 45 days also lacked the market in the same way as milk. Losses were also caused by selling at giveaway prices. We advocate for infrastructure to store produce for a long-term period.
We recommend investment in post-harvest handling techniques that add value to the produce. Such chicken, milk could be processed and then be exported,” he said.
He also called for specialization in growing crops so as to create a market for one another.
He said that good investment, for instance, in post-harvest handling techniques for maize produce could cut maize imports for processing factories.
“Figures show that about 50 percent of maize for local processing factories are imported because local maize loses quality due to lack of post-harvest techniques. These technologies could create a market for local farmers and thus boost the local economy as the maize trade deficit is reduced,” he said.
Rwibasira urged the government to consider investing in post-harvest technologies in the post-COVID-19 recovery plan.
The government seeks to reduce post-harvest losses to less than 5 percent by 2024.
Venuste Muhamyankaka, Executive Director of SUN Alliance Rwanda, a coalition of civil society organizations working to improve nutrition, said that lack of post-harvest handling techniques can trigger malnutrition and food insecurity.
He said under the recovery plan the issue of malnutrition and people still affected by food insecurity should highly be considered.
“Kitchen gardens can be scaled up and many other efforts against malnutrition should be integrated well in the budget preparation,” he said adding that reducing stunting from 38 percent to 19 per cent by 2024 will require extraordinary investment following the effects of COVID-19.Follow NkurunzizaMiche