A 2017 study by the National Agriculture Exports Development Board (NAEB), Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) and University of Rwanda established that up to 40 per cent of fruits and vegetables are lost before reaching the end users.
You would imagine that the report triggered action to minimise post-harvest losses that many farmers face across the country.
However, reports have emerged recently indicating that farmers continue to incur huge losses as a result of lack of market for their produce.
Among those who have decried continued major losses is a group of farmers grouped under a cooperative of pineapple farmers in Ngoma District.
Members of KOABANAMU say that they lose about 50 per cent of their produce during peak season – in July and August – and have called on authorities to help them find a lasting solution.
The cooperative has a deal with the Inyange Industries for 15 tonnes of pineapples every month but this is not enough as they produce some 100 tonnes a month – leaving a significant portion to go to waste.
Most of their produce, they say, rots in the garden.
Similar complaints have been registered in Bugesera District where a cooperative that grows tomatoes is also struggling to find market for their produce, major incurring losses in the process.
When the farmers register bumper harvests they often sell their produce at give-away prices to minimise their losses.
For instance, a bucket of tomatoes that used to go for as much as Rwf2500 has sometimes gone for just Rwf200. Similarly, onions normally go for Rwf250 a kilogramme, but farmers have sometimes been forced to sell at Rwf120.
This represents just the tip of the iceberg with regard to the challenges that continue to afflict the value chain in the agriculture sector.
To reverse the trend there is an urgent need for districts and other local government entities to work closely with the Ministries of Agriculture, and Trade and Industry, and other relevant players, to put in place requisite infrastructure and technologies, such as cold rooms, to allow for safe storage of particularly highly perishable products.
In addition, the most affected districts, such as Ngoma and Bugesera, should borrow lessons from other districts where such losses have been minimised, including through setting up of local processing plants such as the one in Kirehe District which allows farmers to dry their pineapple produce before exporting it.
Commitments to get rid of these kinds of losses should be an integral part of the annual performance contracts (Imihigo).
The private sector too should seize the opportunity and invest in post-harvest handling. It’s unacceptable for farmers to continue incurring such losses after working so hard in a bid to improve their lives.