Despite the effort to encourage farmers to grow rice on large scale, especially in different rehabilitated marshlands across the country, the uptake of locally grown rice remains low, compared to imported varieties.
Farmers say that the imported rice is usually a long grain variety with quality that is most liked by many consumers while most locally grown rice is short grain.
“Local short-grain rice variety known as Kigori even at a lower price does not compete favourably with the imported long grain varieties. Consumers prefer rice imported from Pakistan, Tanzania, and Thailand among others despite the higher cost,” said Peter Niyodushima, who owns a retain shop in Remera sector, Gasabo District.
Imported long-grain rice is retailed at between Rwf800 and 1, 200 per kilogramme while short-grain rice known as ‘Kigori’ is retailed at only between Rwf650 and Rwf750, but demand for the latter remains low.
Farmers say that the growing less appetite for local varieties only leads to more decline in prices, which leaves them and everyone along the value chain on a sharp edge.
In 2019, at least 5,000 tonnes of unprocessed “Kigori” varied was left stuck in stores after it was rejected by processing plants, leaving farmers in losses.
About 70 per cent of rice grown in Rwanda is Kigori, which raises concern for farmers.
Theogene Mugabe is a farmer who Kigori paddy rice in Gatsibo District but has been struggling to get buyers for his less than one tonne of harvest he gets each season.
“We take time to get buyers for our produce and when get them, they will take it in smaller quantities at a time because there is no demand for it. In the end, we are left with almost nothing,” he said.
“We sell Kigori paddy rice at over Rwf200 per kilogramme but we understand that long grain rice can attract over Rwf300 if you have grown it,” he said.
Vedaste Harorimana, the representative of CORIMI cooperative that processes 20 tonnes of Kigori rice per day in Ngoma sector said that the variety faces low demand in other areas such as Kigali, Northern and Western provinces because people are used to consuming long-grain rice.
He said that things became even worse for them when schools closed due to Covid-19, where they are now stuck with over 700 tonnes of rice for which they are yet to find buyers.
Harorimana said that much of their produce is supplied to schools.
He said that they are in trials of three new varieties of long grain rice to see if they can substitute the less attractive variety.
“A kilogramme of paddy Kigori rice can be sold at between Rwf200 and Rwf300 while paddy long-grain rice fetches up to Rwf500 per kilo,” he said.
Reason for hope
The issue of local rice has left Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB) with homework to develop more varieties of long rice grain that are in high demand.
Charles Bucagu, the Deputy Director-General in charge of Agriculture Research and Technology Transfer at Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB) told The New Times that there are five new varieties of long grain that have been released to seed multipliers.
“Many consumers prefer long-grain rice and our research is geared towards this to ensure we have the right varieties of long grain. Rwanda is dominated by short-grain rice because it thrives in wetlands with low temperature. But we are working on long-grain rice varieties that can adapt,” he said.
These, he said, include varieties named Gwiza, Umutebo and Cyuzuzo released in Eastern and Southern provinces.
Three varieties namely Kira, Cyuzuzo and Kageno were released in Western Province but are still in trial phase.
And he said two varieties named Twigire and Ndamira are being tested in Bugarama in Rusizi.
“Buryohe and Fashingabo are the new long-grain varieties that can even compete to those imported because they even have a good aroma. The varieties also resist diseases and highly productive. You can harvest over five tonnes on a hectare,” he said.
Reducing trade deficit
In 2016, Rwanda announced plans to stop importing rice by 2018 with 7 tons/ha by 2018 and increasing cultivation area from 7,000 hectares in 2008 to 28,500 ha.
But Bucagu said that Rwanda is still importing rice as local production is yet to satisfy demand.
Farmers, he said, grow rice on 15,000 hectares with average produce of four tonnes per hectare leaving gaps on the market.
“We need to meet seven tonnes per hectare with good varieties, good agricultural practices and expansion of land,” he said.
Rice produce increased to 113,880 tonnes in 2018 from 83,338 tonnes in 2017 but the growing demand is over 204,000 tons of milled rice.Follow NkurunzizaMiche