Members of the senatorial Standing Committee on Economic Development and Finance have raised concerns that many farmers are hurriedly selling off their harvest instead of saving it with government and privately managed storage facilities for future consumption.
They expressed their concerns to the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fulgence Nsengiyumva, saying that efforts are needed to build strong farmers’ cooperatives which can be able to give farmers cash advances so they can meet their needs instead of selling their crops before they are harvested or hastily sell them upon harvest.
The legislators, who are currently putting together a report on the issue, are worried that lack of significant harvest storage as farmers hastily sell their produce can potentially threaten food security.
Senator Jacqueline Muhongayire, the chairperson of the committee, told the state minister that the habit of saving agricultural harvest need to be promoted among farmers just like it used to be the tradition in the country’s yesteryears.
“It is surprising that, traditionally, Rwandans were used to storing foodstuff but that culture is not being nurtured today,” she said.
Although the Ministry of Agriculture estimates that post-harvest efforts have led to the reduction of the loss of harvested maize produce from 30 per cent to 10.4 per cent and from 25 per cent to 8.3 per cent on harvested rice as shown by a 2014 survey, the same ministry says that lack of enough storage facilities is still a challenge.
Minister Nsengiyumva said that of the target of storing 200,000 tonnes of cereals and legumes harvest in 2017, about 195,000 tonnes were stored in the 2016-2017 financial year.
He suggested that the issue of failure to store harvest for future use can be curbed by working with farmers’ cooperatives, which can ensure that the farmers grow their food together, store it, and sell it to major investors together.
“We are aware of all of these challenges and we will continue to address them working with farmers,” he said about farmers who don’t store their produce.
With the agriculture sector contributing 30 per cent to the country’s economy, Senator Evariste Bizimana said that the reason for storing enough cereals such as maize and rice or legumes such as beans and soy is to be able to sell them instead of just using it for home consumption alone.
He said that most farmers quickly sell their agricultural harvest and don’t mind about the government’s programme to store foodstuff.
“Farmers and their cooperatives should be facilitated when it comes to storing their harvest. In case they are worried about storing their produce, they tend to sell their crops to traders before they are harvested which may lead to famine in the country,” he said.
On the other hand, some storage facilities in the country are empty because farmers are not organised enough to make use of the storage facilities, the senator said.
“Some of the best organised farmers’ cooperatives should be given access to storage facilities so they can promote the storage of farmers’ produce,” he said.
Senator Chrysologue Karangwa agreed that empowering and engaging cooperatives is needed if the trend is to be reversed.
“We need to focus on strenghthening cooperatives of farmers so they can help members address immediate financial problems and prevent them from hastily selling their harvest,” he said.
Nsengiyumva said that everyone’s efforts are needed to boost agricultural production in the country and promised senators that the government will keep working towards encouraging the storage of agricultural harvest to boost the country’s food security.
He said that local leaders will be more engaged to ensure that farmers store their produce instead of rushing to sell it immediately after harvesting.
“Storing produce should be a principle everywhere and districts should put it in their performance contracts,” he said.
About 70 per cent of the Rwandan population depend on agriculture, either through direct employment or related jobs. The sector contributes 30 per cent to the country’s economy.