Farmers and other players in the agriculture sector have blamed the high cost of production, and low productivity per farm for making locally produced wheat more costly to the one imported.
The situation has pushed some wheat processing factories to import from abroad, Sunday Times has learnt.
Patrick Buseruka, a wheat farmer from Nyamagabe District, told Sunday Times that local farmers need manure, chemical fertilisers and seeds as well as cover expenses on different farming activities to get yields, which makes cost of production at farm level expensive.
He expressed that farmers have hiked their prices of their wheat because of low productivity per farm, pointing out that the beverage wheat production per hectare is 3.2 tonnes.
Last season, he said, based on investment by farmers, a kilogramme of wheat cost at least Rwf350 and Rwf400 when the produce was transported to processing factories.
He said that imported wheat is less expensive than the one grown domestically because productivity in the countries from which it is imported is higher than in Rwanda, while their cost of production is lower.
“If they have mechanised agriculture whereby tilling land, harvesting and threshing activities are done by modern machinery, that makes cultivation efficient.
That is different from Rwanda, where a farmer uses a hoe to cultivate, and harvests with rudimentary techniques which results in extra labour,” he said.
For soil with high acidity like Nyamagabe District, Buseruka said, farmers also have to apply lime to their soil so that it becomes productive.
“In fact, a farmer should make benefits from high productivity, not a high price. If a farmer has harvested, say, three tonnes and sells a kilogramme at Rwf400, that is Rwf1.2 million in total. If another farmer gets five tonnes per hectare, and sells a kilogramme at Rwf300, they get Rwf1.5 million. This example shows that the farmer gets returns when they have more farm produce even when they sell at lower price,” he said.
Prospert Biganimbuga, the Managing Director of Gitare Mills Ltd, a Nyamagabe District-based wheat processing factory, told Sunday Times that the produce per hectare in Rwanda is still low, and local farmers want to get more money for the little produce they get.
He said that farmers want the processor to buy their wheat at between Rwf420 and Rwf450 a kilogramme, yet Biganimbuga says the processor can only pay Rwf300, explaining that lack of agreement on a price has made the processor reluctant to buy from local farmers.
He pointed out that the factory signed a contract with farmers’ cooperatives to supply it with 800 tonnes of wheat per season, but it was only supplied 150 tonnes.
“There is small quantity of wheat produce, and farmers want to sell it at high price. As a factory, we want to buy the wheat at Rwf300 so that we can be able to avoid losses,” he said estimating that imported wheat is about Rwf250 a kilogramme.
Some countries, according to Biganimbuga, have high wheat yields ranging from six to eight tonnes per hectare, while in Rwanda, on average, 3.2 tonnes are produced per hectare, calling for technology application by farmers to increase yields.
Realising that the locally produced wheat is expensive, he said, the firm considered importing wheat from abroad as a last resort, but, was hindered by shipment terms, as it necessitated that it imports at least 1,000 tonnes per shipment, yet Gitare Mills processes about 100 tonnes per month.
“The factory was set up in line with promoting local farmers. We want to partner with all concerned organs including the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources, the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) to apply various technologies to increase productivity at farm level,” he said.
The Minister for Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI), Dr. Gerardine Mukeshimana said that there are grain millers which import wheat because the locally grown one is more expensive.
“Wheat in countries such as Canada and Russia are extremely cheap, and that is why Azam [Bakhresa Grain Milling Ltd] decides to import from there because the wheat reaches here at a lower price compared to the one harvested from Gicumbi [District],” she said.
She said that what the Government is doing is to train farmers to increase productivity at farm level so that the cost of production gets reduced, and prices be lowered so that agro-processing factories get raw materials at affordable prices.
“If they do not buy the raw materials at a good price, it becomes difficult for customers to afford processed commodities,” she said observing that the country has a target to ensure that factories add value to farm produce, but also the produce reaches the market at affordable prices to the customer.