Farmers petition govt after Rwf1.3bn heifer deal goes sour

A group of farmers are asking the government to come to their rescue after a deal with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Rwanda Development Bank to supply exotic cows has left them counting huge losses.
Etienne Mungwakunzwe, a resident of Nyaruguru, with his cow. File.
Etienne Mungwakunzwe, a resident of Nyaruguru, with his cow. File.

A group of farmers are asking the government to come to their rescue after a deal with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Rwanda Development Bank to supply exotic cows has left them counting huge losses.

Under the deal, 500 cows were purchased to the tune of 1,442,500 Euros (1,984,591.50 USD), approximately 1,35 billion Rwandan Francs.

According to their petition dated January 21, 2014, the farmers were to receive high quality heifers  with a production capacity of up to 40 litres of milk, however, when the animals arrived in Rwanda, they were not only of poor quality, but also infected with disease. More than 50 have so far died.

The farmers purchased the heifers 2,885 Euros each through a loan from BRD and now feel heavily cheated.

The New Times obtained a copy of the petition that was sent to the CEO of BRD and copied to the Minister of Agriculture.

Upon further investigation, The New Times has reliably learned that the deal to purchase animals was marred by irregularities right from the start.

On July 9, 2012 the BRD, represented by the then CEO Jack Kayonga and the Ministry of Agriculture, represented by the former Permanent Secretarey, Ernest Ruzindaza, signed a Memorandum of Understanding to set up a framework within which modern cattle farming projects will be promoted in the form of importing exotic cows and bulls.

“The specific purpose (of MoU) is to establish financing terms and conditions related to the importation of 1,000 exotic cows and a few bulls,” reads part of the MoU.

However, when it came to implementation, a couple of clauses in the MoU were ignored, creating room for suspected foul play within the deal.

In the MoU, it was agreed that at the time of purchase, a team comprising farmers representatives and staff from the Ministry of Agriculture will be formulated.

“This team will be chaired by Farmers represenative and will be charged with selecting cows and will provide a selection report to BRD and it is the basis of this report that BRD will use to order the cows and pay for the cows delivered at Kigali International Airport,”

This clause was ignored when the team that purchased the animals was chaired by Dr. Charles Kayumba, the country director of Heifer international.

According to a reliable source, Dr Kayumba, who is said to be a close relative to the then CEO of BRD, contacted a Holland-based firm – Firma Schaap – owned by N.H Schaap, also a Dutch international, to supply the cows.

The source said that Schaap later met the Ministry’s former Permanent Secretary, Ruzindaza, and the ministry’s director general in charge of livestock, Dr. Theogene Rutagwenda, who approved him as the official supplier of the livestock and introduced him to Jack Kayonga, then CEO of BRD.

“This was a planned scam because farmers, who by the agreement were supposed to head the verification and selection team, were even excluded from the Holland trip arguing that they had no funds to transport and accommodate them,” a source said.

The New Times obtained a copy of the contract signed between the Dutch supplier Firma Shaap and BRD in April last year. Some of the articles outlined were not respected.

Article 8 of the contract reads, “Upon arrival, the animals so identified and selected will be verified and payment will be based on the verified selected animals. Every cow that is identified and selected shall have its photo taken and a CD prepared to confirm its identity on arrival.”

However, according to our source, the identification process was largely ignored and more than 95 percent of the total invoice was paid prior to approval of the cows and without following the procedures put in place by the national treasury for payment of such large sums of money.

Another issue that was ignored and raised red flags was that at the time of purchase, the selection team was to ensure that animals are prepared for export including quarantine of the animals in the exporting country.

But, The New Times learned that when the team visited the seller’s farm in Holland, it was empty and cows were only transported after their arrival, causing suspicion as they were in Holland to select the animals, yet the selection was already done.

In an interview with the Police Spokesperson, ACP Damas Gatare, investigations in the matter are ongoing.

“Preliminary results show evidence of corruption, negligence, abuse of office and intentional cause of loss to the government,” Gatare said.

He added that once investigations are complete and substantial evidence has been collected, the dossier will be handed over to prosecution for immediate follow up.

Another source familiar with the deal, intimated to The New Times that upon scrutiny of the team that was issued Visas to travel to Holland to select the cows, was the wife of Dr Kayumba, constituting abuse of office as he used an official mission to obtain a visa for an individual who was travelling on a private matter.

After uncovering the alleged scam, a verification team that included the farmers and officials from the Ministry of Agriculture was set up to asses that damage.

The team has so far reported that more than 80 per cent of the livestock imported were of poor quality, with some producing only three litres of milk, way below that the targeted 40 litters daily.

The farmers now want the government to intervene after realising that the remaining cows can not make up for the losses they have already incurred. 

“Most cows have very strange diseases and their calves died mysteriously, some expectant cows have had miscarriages while others produce only three litres. Farmers have now stopped milking them,” the farmers’ petition reads.

“We want Minagri and BRD to take back the remaining cows because for us we have run short of ideas on how to save the few remaining ones.”

“We request that the payment of loans be halted until we are supplied with quality breeds that will help us to service the loans,” they added.

Early this week, Mr Ruzindaza was relieved of his duties as Permanent Secretary and according to our sources, this deal may have contributed to his sacking.

The Rwandan government has a policy in place to support farmers, helping them acquire high-quality livestock to improve their welfare as well as milk production the country.

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