Potato growers in the country have welcomed the government’s move to streamline the entire value and supply chains for the crop, including plans to set up a new wholesale market in the capital Kigali.
Farmers will own at least 40 per cent of shares in the proposed market, which will work closely with Irish potato collection centres established in major potato growing communities.
This, farmers say, will help minimise chances of middlemen fleecing them off by buying their produce at give-away prices only to make hefty prices when they sell to retailers, especially in Kigali.
“We have been getting very little profit because traders often tell us that prices have dropped in Kigali and buy our produce at very low profits, but we expect the changes to protect us,” said Ancille Usanzamahoro, an Irish potato farmer in Burera District.
Farmers also welcomed the fact that the new arrangement shortens the supply chain, with the previous one often involving four layers of traders between the farmer and the final consumer.
With the new system, however, only about two layers of middlemen will be retained (the one who picks the Irish potatoes from the collection centres that are largely owned by the farmers themselves and delivers the produce to the wholesale market in Kigali, and then the retailer who moves the crop from the wholesale market to the final buyer).
Farmers said that, at the moment, they sell a kilogramme of Irish potatoes to the first-line trader at Rwf100, about half the last price in Kigali markets.
Officials said that, previously, traders would transport potatoes from the countryside to an informal wholesale market at Giti cy’Inyoni in Nyarugenge District where they would sell it to another set of traders.
But with the new arrangement, farmers will now partake in, or at least closely follow, the movement of their produce from their respective collection centres in their villages to the newly proposed wholesale market to be located in the Kinyinya suburb of Kigali’s Gasabo District.
Trade and Industry minister Francois Kanimba says the new market will be in place in the next few days with the official launch due on June 5.
Potato farmers, who operate in cooperatives, will have a 40 per cent stake in the wholesale market, with the government looking for other private investors to take up the other 60 per cent shareholding.
Farmers also own a 60 per cent stake in the newly introduced collection centres in their respective communities.
So far, according to officials, 60 collection facilities have been set up in Burera and Musanze districts (30 centres in each), while similar centres are set to be established in Nyabihu and Rubavu districts over the next few days.
Farmers in Rutsiro, Nyaruguru and Nyamagabe districts are also expected to set up their own potato collection centres in the near future.
Each collection centre will have capacity to hold up to 5000 tonnes of Irish potatoes a year.
Currently, farm gate price has been set at Rwf140 per kilogramme. Usanzamahoro said the price is relatively fair although farmers had hoped for Rwf150 as the minimum price.
Minister Kanimba said on Monday that several collection centres for potatoes across the country would be in place by the first week of June.
He was addressing more than 300 potato growers and traders drawn from across the country.
The meeting, held in Kigali, aimed at engaging stakeholders ahead of the launch of the Kigali Wholesale Market for Irish potatoes.
“We started these discussions three months ago and now the time has come to translate ideas into action. A joint team from Minicom (Ministry of Trade and Industry) and the Private Sector Federation (PSF) should soon complete a readiness assessment exercise, which will also look at the status of collection centres,” Kanimba said.
Participants shared views on how best the Irish potato business can fairly and equitably benefit everyone involved in the value and supply chains.
According to PSF, several investors have already expressed interest in owning a stake in the proposed wholesale market in Kinyinya.
Christine Murebwayire, the chairperson of the Agriculture chamber at PSF, said it was significant that Irish potatoes growers and private businesses co-own the market at a ratio of 40:60.
Kanimba said the Kigali Wholesale Market for Irish potatoes will work closely with the collection centres in different parts of the country to address the recurring problem of imbalance pricing.
“Farmers and traders need to work together to ensure mutually beneficial results, it is a good signal that they have agreed on this. Under the new system, a minimum price will be set to ensure that everybody benefits,” he said.
Ironing out ‘pricing issues’
Despite the development, however, farmers have said that for them to even be able to export their produce, which they say would fetch them more profits, there was need for a clear policy.
But Kanimba said proper ways of conserving the produce were needed before taking steps to export the produce to ensure that the crop reaches foreign markets while it’s still fresh.
“We are currently scanning the market. We have also learned from experts that Irish potatoes can be conserved for up to six months,” Minister Kanimba said.
He added that the proposed wholesale market owners will also be tasked with finding lucrative markets outside the country and to consult with experts on the best ways of conserving the produce.
Murebwayire said that these efforts are part of a broader agenda to commercialise agriculture.
“Irish potato growers and traders have agreed to put in place the wholesale market and the collection centres. This is an important platform that will help arrive at win-win solutions in case of pricing issues,” the PSF’s official said.
Dieudonne Kajyambere, an Irish potato grower in Nyabihu, said they expect to benefit from the new system, urging faster implementation.
Innocent Maniraguha, a trader of Irish potatoes, said traders were ready to observe the new arrangement but called on government to take concrete steps towards conservation of the produce to avoid price fluctuations.