The Soaring prices of Irish potato seeds has left smallholder farmers lamenting, triggering efforts by different stakeholders to a seek remedy.
The prices for seeds, now between Rwf600 and Rwf700, are soaring at the time when farmers are getting little from the produce, with the farm price for a kilogramme of Irish potato now down to between Rwf110 and 140, according to farmers from Northern and Western provinces – the region where the crop is predominantly grown.
Although improved seeds produced by Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) are sold at between Rwf300 and Rwf320, it reaches farmers at twice the price, a situation that has been attributed to the shortage of the seeds.
The farmers say the gains from their harvest is disproportionate to the investment made, given other costs for inputs like fetilisers, insecticides and labour that they have to cover.
The farmers also contend that if they get affordable and highly productive seeds, they can get good return on investments and consumers can get affordable produce.
“In addition, land in this area is so expensive that one has to pay some Rwf500,000 for a year’s lease,” Adrien Ntawukiramwabo, a farmer from Burera District, told The New Times, adding that the current conditions are hard for smallholder farmers with no means to make the requisite investments.
“Seeds should be subsdised so that we can get them at least for Rwf300 a kilogramme or, at most, Rwf400 for us to get meaningful profit from our farming activities,” he said.
Officials at RAB have attributed the situation to the seed multipliers, who have resorted to selling off the improved seeds given to them to multiply, hence creating a shortage.
Efforts to solve seed issue
The head of RAB’s Northern Province Zone, Jean Claude Izamuhaye, told The New Times that there are several investments that have been made to ensure effective Irish seed production, including the establishment of Seeds Potato Fund (SPF) to facilitate the multipliers.
He said, often, those engaged in multiplication of seeds do not have enough capital, adding that the fund will enable them to multiply seeds in large quantities to bring down the price.
Another effort, he said, is that from this agriculture season 2017 A – which started in December 2016 – the production capacity of the Musanze-based potato laboratory was increased tenfold from 80,000 plantlets to 800,000 per season.
This development will generate about 21,510 tonnes of Irish potato seeds to be distributed to farmers. But this project, Izamuhaye said, would take about two years to realise.
There are 27 private-owned greenhouses for seed multiplication in the country, and eight operated by RAB.
SPF president Apollinaire Karegeya said there is need for many professional multipliers of Irish potato seeds.
“This seed issue cannot be addressed overnight but we are making steps toward a permanent solution in the coming two years,” he said.
The Fund was created by farmers on December 15, 2015, and has since supplied about 900 tonnes of Irish potato seeds at between Rwf450 and 500 a kilogramme, according to Karegeya.
Isaac Nzabarinda, the president of Irish Potato Platform, a loose organisation that brings together farmers, multipliers and dealers, said farmers should embrace crop rotation instead of growing potatoes even in the wrong time of the year.
“You can’t solve the Irish potato seeds issue in one day because farmers outnumber seeds multipliers by thousands,” he said.
By increasing the Irish potato laboratory capacity, Izamuhaye said, the target was to reach 25 per cent of the capacity to provide farmers with improved seeds in September, while the projections by 2020 is 75 per cent.
According to Rwanda Statistical Year Book, annual Irish potato production in Rwanda was over two million tonnes by 2011.
Figures from RAB show that this agriculture season 2017 A, Irish potato was grown on 63,274 hectares countrywide, with expected production of over 1.2 million tonnes based on average produce of 20 tonnes per hectare.