High potato prices push consumers elsewhere

Irish potatoes in Musanze market. File.

The rising prices for Irish potatoes has prompted Divine Nikuze, 32, a mother of two, to resort to other alternatives.

“We are paying Rwf350 for a kilogramme of small and low quality potatoes in my area,” said the resident of Gasabo District, Bumbogo Sector.

“Now, eating potatoes is like celebrating a party,” she told The New Times,pointing out that the prices gradually went up from about Rwf200 (in 2013) to Rwf350 a kilogramme currently.

In fact, prices for quality Irish potatoes are higher than those set by the Ministry of Trade and Industry in partnership with other institutions in charge of potato production and trade, including the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources.

While the prices set in August this year put a kilogramme of Kinigi (a premium variety) should range between Rwf255 to Rwf265 in Kigali, in general but now costs Rwf450 to Rwf600).

 “Five kilogrammes are enough to satisfy all of us. But, if a kilogramme is more than Rwf200, it means that we have to spend more than Rwf1,000 per a meal, making it a huge bill to pay for our daily living,” she explained.

As a result, she said, “We have resorted to eating bananas as a kilogramme is about Rwf150, and maize because a 10-kilogramme sack costs Rwf3,500”.

Irish potato dealers say that the prices for the commodity ‘are not stable’, and that they are being fixed against the market realities.

They argue that prices should not be ‘dictated’, rather be determined by the demand and supply principle, claiming that sometimes they buy the Kinigi variety at Rwf350 or Rwf450 a kilogramme and are told to sell it at Rwf260 or undergo fines otherwise.

Pascal Ndayambaje, an Irish potato trader at Kimironko market, said that he has on three occasions paid about Rwf230,000 in fines within three instances because of such a situation.

“In economics, prices are regulated by the market itself, if there is higher supply compared to demand, prices go down, and the other way round,” he said, calling for effective pricing of the product.

Normally, from June to September, there is shortage of potatoes because of the dry season, said Jean Damascene Ntawushobora, an Irish potato farmer, and the president of IABINYA – Nyabihu District-based potato growers.

Ntawushobora explained that during this season, only six tonnes are produced per hectare against an average of between 15 and 25 tonnes per hectare during the rainy season.

He said that a kilogramme of potatoes is between Rwf190 and Rwf220 for white potato varieties, and RwfRwf350 for the Kinigi variety.

“I grew some potatoes that I harvested in July just for consumption because I only got 700 kilogrammes on a piece of land where I normally get six tonnes,” he said, adding thatfarmers are looking forward to better yields in November this year.

However, the Minister for Trade and Industry, Vincent Munyeshyaka, told The New Times that the prices are set considering the interest of everyone in the potato chain starting from the producer to the trader and consumer, explaining that they make sure that the farmer gets 25 per cent profit on the investment they made to produce each kilogramme.

“The system [to set prices] that we have in place was intended to halt the middlemen’s exploitation of farmers,” he said, citing that there are people who used to buy a kilogramme at Rwf70 or Rwf80 from the farmer, yet they sold it at between Rwf200 and Rwf300.

He warned that those who do not comply with the set prices will be fined between Rwf20,000 and Rwf2 million depending on the gravity of the offense committed.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw