Post-harvest losses in easily perishable crops such as tomatoes, pineapples and onions have pushed farmers to appeal for solutions to add value to the products so that they could last longer, such as setting up small processing factories.
“We lose about 50 tonnes of pineapples every two months (in July and August) as they rot because that is peak season when there is bumper harvest, yet there is no ready market to absorb all of it,” Charles Ndereyemungu, a member of KOABANAMU, a cooperative of pineapple farmers in Ngoma District told Sunday Times.
The cooperative, he said, grows the crop on about 1,200 hectares, and produces about 100 tonnes per month, and supplies some 15 tonnes per month to Inyange Industries.
“Produce deteriorates especially in January and August when it is peak season,” he said adding that they sometimes resort to selling pineapples at Rwf30 a kilo while the normal price is Rwf150 a kilogramme.
“We need processing units to dry the pineapples, or make other products that can be safely kept longer,” he said.
Ngoma District Mayor Aphrodise Nambaje recently said that the issue of loses that farmers face has been persistent, but, a solution to address it through setting up a processing factory was being considered.
In Gakenke District, the issue of pineapples lacking market has been alleviated since COVAFGA – a cooperative for the valorisation of fruits in Gakenke – set up a small processing unit that is adding value to the crop by making juice and wine.
The head of the cooperative, Bernadette Nyiratebuka, told Sunday Times that the unit has capacity to process fourtonnes of pineapples per day.
Gakenke District produces at least 150 tonnes of pineapple per month, while the mini factory has capacity to process about120 tonnes per month (maximum), according to estimates by the district vice mayor in charge of finance and economic development, Aimé François Niyonsenga.
The remaining pineapples are sold to agro-processing ‘Enterprise Urwibutso’; others are bought by customers from Rubavu, Musanze and Kigali.
Tomato, onion losses
A bucket containing 10 kilogrammes of tomatoes was sold at between Rwf2,000 and Rwf2,500 before the harvest season, but it reduced to Rw200 as tomato prices fell significantly in Bugesera District in September, farmers contend.
Onions were going for Rwf250 a kilogramme, but now, they are sold at Rwf120.
Catherine Masengesho, 30, said that she harvests about one tonne of onions on a half-hectare; and about two tonnes of tomatoes on another half-hectare farmland.
“We don’t have any other option. these commodities are perishables, if we keep them for days, they get rotten, and we lose everything. That’s why we sell them at a giveaway price, the mother of two told Sunday Times, adding that some of the produce is still in store because there were no buyers.
Commenting on the issue, the Vice Mayor for Finance and Economic Development in Bugesera, Angelique Umwali said “we talked with National Agriculture Exports Development Board (NAEB) so that next season, farmers can grow crops with ready buyers.”
“For onions, we are setting up a factory in Ruhuha Sector that they can store safely and sell at good prices,” she said.
Tuzamurane Cooperative based in Kirehe District’s Gahara Sector, gets over Rw300 million from exporting 24 tonnes of dried pineapples to France annually, and plans to increase exports as it seeks to expand its market. A kilogramme at the export market is $15.
“We target to grow from three tonnes to five tonnes of exports next year (2019) because more farmers are growing pineapples in Gahara Sector,” Tuzamurane Cooperative Manager, Sylvestre Barajiginywa said.
The Minister for Trade and Industry, Vincent Munyeshyaka told Sunday Times that there was need to learn and scale up technologies such as cold room facilities to safely store perishable products such as tomatoes.
“There are cooperatives which are drying produce such as pineapples and export which is beneficial,” he said adding that the export growth facility in the Development Bank of Rwanda can help them in transforming their produce”
More than 40 per cent of fruits and vegetables is lost before reaching the end user according to a recent joint assessment carried out in 2017 by the University of Rwanda (UR), Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) and NAEB.