Irish potato prices continue to soar

Direct consumers might not like it but to farmers, the high prices of Irish potatoes, a staple food in the country, makes economic sense.
Irish potatoes on the stalls in a market. The prices of the staple foodstuff remain high across the country.   The New Times/ File.
Irish potatoes on the stalls in a market. The prices of the staple foodstuff remain high across the country. The New Times/ File.

Direct consumers might not like it but to farmers, the high prices of Irish potatoes, a staple food in the country, makes economic sense.

The price of Irish potatoes in Northern and Western provinces markets has remained high for four straight months and market indications are that it will remain so for at least another month or so.

The rise of the price has been attributed to various reasons, including two successive unfavourable seasons with the first one having heavy rain that destroyed the crops and the second seeing rains end before the crops had matured.

Farmers also attributed the rise to the scarcity of seeds in the region, the high demand across the country and beyond.

Emmanuel Musabyimana, the head of Hinga Volcano Company, a farmers’ cooperative, attributed the rise of the price to the weather.

“We had two successive bad seasons. The first season we had heavy rain that destroyed crops, the second one was dry that made the produce worse, now we are expecting good harvest from those we are planting if this season is favourable.”

Musabyimana said in Kinigi where Irish potatoes are mostly cultivated in the two seasons, they harvested less than 15 tonnes per hectare where they used to harvest more than 25 tonnes.

A kilogramme of Irish potatoes cost Rwf170 in June and July, rose to Rwf220 in  August and it now goes for Rwf250 in Musanze market. The same scale was  Rwf210 in August in Rubavu Market but now stands at Rwf250.

Patricia Nyiratunga, a resident of Muko Sector in Musanze District and a member of Duterimbere cooperative which deals in potato plantation, said farmers normally get seeds late and end up planting what is meant for consumption and are prone to diseases.

“We usually get seeds from Rwanda Agricultural Board but when it comes late, we are forced to buy expensively from suppliers. Some farmers end up planting what they have at home that are not productive. This leads to low production,” she said.

Business sense

Dealers in Irish potatoes in Musanze and Rubavu markets said they have to sell at the current cost to offset their expenditures to farmers.

“The cost of Irish potatoes started rising in June. We were selling a kilogramme between Rwf160 and Rwf170 in May but in June it went up to Rwf200 and early in August we sold it at Rwf300 before it reduced,” said a trader in Musanze market, who only identified herself as Niyonsaba.

According to Joseph Gafaranga, the executive secretary of Imbaraga Farmers’ Union in Northern Province, although the climate change has affected Irish Potato production, the little that has been harvested has to be shared with neighbouring countries.

He said least 200 tonnes of Irish potatoes is exported to Uganda every week and more to other countries.

Theo Manizabayo, who exports Irish potatoes across the border, said in Uganda, Rwandan Irish potato sells highly.

“Irish potato from Rwanda, mainly those known as Kinigi (from Kinigi), are loved and Ugandans prefer them to any other type of potatoes. The price doubles in Uganda,” he said

Emmanuel Nzabimana, an agronomist at Imbaraga Union, said there is hope harvest will increase this season because farmers planted on time and the season looks favourable.

He said farmers are expecting to harvest between 25 tonnes and 30 tonnes per hectare.

Officials from the Ministry of Agriculture are aware of the rise of the price and say they are working on it to find the solution.

In her last visit to Musanze District, the Minister for Agriculture, Dr Agnes Kalibata, said they will mobilise the private sector to get involved with multiplying Irish potato seeds.

According to Jean Jacques Mbonigaba, the director-general of Rwanda Agriculture Board, more seed multipliers will be trained and supported to multiply seeds as profession.