People are used to formal classification of utilities, such as electricity, water, telecommunications, petroleum products, transport and drugs, among others.
For many Rwandans, especially in the cities, Irish potatoes, bananas and milk are ranked among basic “utilities”, simply because they need them for their survival.
The Rwandan economy, like all other economies, is made up of three components; agriculture, industry and services sectors. The primary sector is, currently, key to rural development and urban consumption.
All the above sectors are interlinked, because they support each other as they contribute towards Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the national economy.
In my previous opinion in this newspaper (See “Affordable housing should consider land rationalization”), I noted that; we all need land for food, housing development, environment or cemetery. Basically, it is for food.
It has been, either empirically or scientifically, established that; few districts in the country can feed the entire country with potatoes, and the extra produce would be exported. These districts are, namely; Rubavu, Nyabihu, Musanze and Burera.
Farmers in those districts are mainly potato growers. That has always been their main crop, which urban and rural citizens need for food.
For many years, especially since the Crops Intensification Program (CIP) and the Green Revolution were introduced in Rwanda, especially since 2006, farmers were excited, and they invested a lot in that sector, with the help of government subsidies, to increase productivity.
However, there have always been complaints from farmers and consumers. Whereas the earlier decried big losses, the latter complained about high costs of potatoes.
Practically, potatoes became a rare food, especially in Kigali, as meat used to be called a long time ago because few could afford; “imbonekarimwe” (extremely rare).
A friend told me –as a joke- that only “persons in category four, the well-off”, could afford to consume Irish potatoes regularly. I believe the market needed to be regulated.
Lack of market regulation would be counter-productive in the sense that; it might discourage farmers from investing in the sector thereby creating food shortages and, ultimately, it may have some monetary policy implications leading to serious inflation.
Irish potatoes farmers –those practicing modern agriculture with improved seeds and fertilizers- have been facing losses. Available statistics indicate that; one needed to invest Rwf 147 to harvest 1kg of potatoes, which was later sold at RwF 95-110. There was, undoubtedly, big loss.
This situation notwithstanding, retailers of the same produce were selling it at between Rwf 270 and RwF 350 a kilo in Kigali and such a situation had prevailed for long.
Life was becoming, unfairly, very expensive. A consultative meeting held in Musanze on 6th December, 2017 emphasized the principle of a citizen-centered government. It resolved to ensure producer and consumer protection, to reduce the number of players in supply chain, to ensure reasonable profit for every player and to provide incentives for farmers for increased productivity.
For the best and expensive quality, the farmer would sell at between RwF 165-170, the collection center at RwF 177-182, the wholesaler at RwF 200-205 and the retailer would sell at RwF 215-220 a kilo respectively. Additionally, it was resolved that; collection centers should be owned and managed by farmers’ cooperatives, and local authorities were asked to ensure the directives are respected.
Unfortunately, some voices, undoubtedly from ill-informed people or from those who used to profiteer from the business, began alleging all sorts of things.
Is it fair to claim that ensuring a farmer’s and consumer’sprotection while ensuring reasonable profit for business people makes citizens’ life hard? This is absolutely not true! This shall, instead, increase demand in consumption while making life affordable for consumers.
Looking forward, the Government should expect an increase in produce and productivity and work on post-harvest management such as establishment of a cold rooms and export market promotion.
Business operators should seize this opportunity to boost their market given the forecasted demand and increase in consumption, instead of maximizing their profit at the expense of the producers and consumers while narrowing the market.
Members of the private sector should espouse patriotism in complementing Government efforts to ensure affordable quality of life for all citizens by investing significantly in the sector. That has been the secret behind Rwanda’s success in over the last two decades.
Instead of denouncing the new measures, we should all support them as a shared responsibility and enforcement measures are required to ensure the sustainability of the system. Rwandans have reasons to smile at the beginning of the year, especially farmers and consumers of Irish potatoes. This food can now be affordable for all.
The author is a Kigali-based political analyst
The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.