Lawmakers have tasked the Rural Income Through Export (PRICE), an agriculture project under the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI), to work toward enhancing agriculture exports.
This was Tuesday evening as the project officials appeared before the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee to account for more than $35 million (about Rwf28 billion) worth of investments in cash crops since its inception in 2011.
The project, one of the heavily funded agricultural projects under MINAGRI, was initiated to promote among other things, coffee, tea and silkworm seedlings to boost agricultural exports, with sponsorship of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
The 7-year project (2011-2018) which is supposed to be entirely funded at the tune of $56 million (Rwf45 billion), which was audited for the first time by the Auditor General last year and got a clean audit status.
However, much as it had commendable financial reports, lawmakers called for a value-for-money audit.
According to Juvenal Nkusi, chairperson of the PAC, the project management had clean financial statement which reflected good utilisation of the funds, but return on investments with respect to actual crop yields was lacking.
“It is good you received unqualified audit opinion, but your outputs are way below. If someone was to count seeds of tea you planted in total and the yields, there is a big difference,” he said.
“There are significant doubts whether that difference can help our country meet export targets in monetary terms. Can you assure us, for example, that next year through your contribution we would have moved from $60 million to $80 million annual export returns,” he asked the officials.
PRICE project operates in four districts, including Karongi, Nyamasheke, Ngororero and Nyaruguru in the Western Province and has been working closely with farmers in cooperatives.
However, lawmakers stated that cooperatives have been incurring huge debts and their supply capacity is low compared to initially set targets.
“You must have been working below the target, how far have you gone in the expansion of farming areas, during our field visit we were told by factory managers that despite capacity to handle or process 20 tonnes of tea a day, farmers through cooperatives, had been supplying below three tonnes a day,” added Theoneste Karenzi, the deputy chairperson of the committee.
Since its inception, according to officials, the project has invested $35 million out of the $56 million total budget which was supposed to be disbursed in installments in loans and grants.
In response, Claver Gasirabo, the coordinator of the project, stated that gaps in farming had been mainly caused by unseriousness of contracted investors and poorly planned farming projects from cooperatives.
“We have cases where our site managers have been reluctant on follow-ups and farmers would lie that they have planted tea or coffee on large areas when, in practice, it is not true,” he said.
“For example, someone would tell you they have cultivated 2000 hectares of coffee yet, in reality, it is less than 500 hectares and this would definitely affect production,”
On cooperatives making losses, Gasirabo argued that their projects were ill-prepared.
However, Gasirabo said, so far, a number of policies and strategic measures were put in place to ensure value for money in the remaining work since the project has started to prepare for closure.
“We are yet to claim the remaining portion of the money and our funders will need to make sure we got the ongoing projects delivering, thus we are restructuring the methods of working with cooperatives and other agencies to ensure value for money,” he said, adding that part of the strategies was to help in the designing of workable projects and to engage more local leaders in the supervision of the ongoing projects.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, 4.3 million coffee seedlings out of 4.5 million produced in 92 nurseries, and 998 hectares out of 1200 hectares were planted by coffee farmers, equivalent to 94 per cent of planned area, since the project inception.
Additionally, 15.47 million tea seedlings out of 16.8 million produced in 5 greenfield sites: Muganza, Gatare, Rutsiro, Mushubi and Karongi; and 1,167 hectares out of 1,200 hectares were also planted by tea farmers, equivalent to 97 per cent of planned area.