It was both praise and presentation of issues when President Paul Kagame visited north-western Rwanda last week, as part of his Citizen Outreach programme.
Citizens there shared about their satisfaction for achievements registered so far, in terms of developing themselves, but also seized the opportunity to seek help from central government to help add value to their agricultural and livestock produce.
From Wednesday through Friday, the President met and interacted with thousands of residents from at least five districts of Burera, Musanze, Nyabihu, Rubavu, and Rutsiro.
The general feeling from the testimonies by citizens who met the Head of State at three sites is that they are generally happy with what they have achieved so far, including increase in milk production as more people now have cows, thanks to the government’s one-cow-per-poor family (Girinka) programme.
They also celebrate the fact that more people are now connected to electricity, have access to clean water, have more feeder roads to facilitate transport, and live in safer communities.
These are key factors that spur economic activity, most especially in rural areas.
But many residents, from ordinary farmers to successful entrepreneurs and cooperative leaders, voiced their thirst for functional industries.
For example, they need functional community-based dairy processing centres to be able to produce cheese, yogurt, butter, and fresh milk for sale at both local and foreign markets.
Whether it’s farmers in Burera District who are concerned that a multi-million dairy processing plant is lying idle or residents in Rubavu and Nyabihu who complained about inability to sell their milk because of failure to meet certain standards, it is clear that adding value to their milk is what they need.
Built in 2016 at the tune of nearly Rwf500 million, the processing plant, dubbed Burera Dairy, has for months remained out of service due to management challenges.
It was built with capacity to receive 2000 litres of milk per day but it stopped working in December last year, and even then it was functioning at about 30 per cent of its capacity, leaving farmers crying foul.
The plant was closed owing to lack of working capital and officials at Rwanda Development Board have started a process to privatise it.
President Kagame was angry with officials at the Ministry of Trade, District of Burera, and the National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA) who failed to follow up on the plant’s management and business.
NIRDA and the Business Development Fund (BDF) together with local farmers, along with a cooperative, are the investors in the now dysfunctional facility.
The President urged them to move swiftly and turn situation around, explaining that its role in helping dairy farmers in Burera is too big to be ignored.
Then when the President met residents in Musanze, a resident from Nyabihu District, Anastase Hakizimana from Jenda Sector, requested him to help farmers there find a market for their milk.
“We want you to find us the market for our milk,” he said.
As it turned out, the farmer needed training on how to ensure that the milk he takes to his local milk collection centre meets the standards for safe milk.
“No one is receiving our milk at milk processing plants,” he said before an employee at a milk collection centre in his area said that some farmers’ milk falls short of minimum standards.
And, as the President met residents in Rubavu District on Friday, he was also received here with questions about challenges to add value to both milk and vegetables produced in excess in this region.
Mussa Mustapha Musabyimana, a leader of a cooperative that exports vegetables to foreign countries, including markets in Europe, said that he needs a processing plant to add value to their vegetables in order to increase exports.
Another resident, Jean de Dieu Nteziryayo from Kanama sector, told the President that he and hundreds of other dairy farmers are currently unable to export their milk to the Democratic Republic of Congo because of standards issues.