Rwanda is the sixth largest producer of Irish potatoes in Africa. However, its competitiveness is challenged by low quality agro-inputs, poor storage capacity, and weak coordination between farmer groups and potential buyers, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. Consequently, this leads to low yield, high post-harvest losses and, subsequently, low prices on the market.
However, the difficult situation has turned into a business opportunity for some who are frustrated by the challenges. Enias Hangiyaremye is an Irish potato aggregator near Kavumu sector in the western district of Ngororero. He started the business in 2014 and it was initially performing well, but, unfortunately, it did not go as well as anticipated due to poor business management, lack of markets, and bad debtors.
In 2018, Enias engaged with Hinga Weze (HW) to benefit from a series of trainings for aggregators and suppliers. Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), HW is promoting the production, marketing, and consumption of Irish potatoes together with other value chains – high-iron beans, orange-fleshed sweet potato, maize, and horticulture – for 560,000 farmers across 10 districts. The aim is to increase farmers’ income, improve the nutritional status of women and children, and increase the resilience of agricultural and food systems to a changing climate.
Together with 32 other aggregators, Enias gained skills in business management – including quality assurance, record keeping, and contract farming – to grow his Irish potato business. He now sells 20 metric tons (MT), up from 15 MT when he started with HW, and he is able to buy in bulk at the time of harvest, manage stock, and deliver to clients on time, thereby sustaining the market for farmers. Enias has also diversified the business and is now managing an input credit scheme worth 27.4 million Rwandan Francs (RWF) (equaling $31.3million USD) for 160 Irish potato farmers. “I help farmers to access agro-inputs like Irish potato seeds, lime, and fertilizers on credit and they pay back after harvest,” observed Enias.
To promote all HW value chains, Enias, and 11 other aggregators were assisted to sign 68 contracts for the supply of 164 MT of Irish potatoes, 5,212 MT of maize, 150 MT of high iron beans, 8,472 MT of horticulture crops and 929 KG of orange-fleshed sweet potato. Sales are now worth USD $3,876,427 and farmers are able to access finance worth 1.416 billion RWF (USD $1.62 M).
Managing business is no easy task, but, through HW, aggregators are finding a niche in the unpredictable Irish potato market.