RWANDA – Rwanda had a good harvest for both grains and cereals last season, which attracted huge demand from regional buyers.

This has benefitted farmers in terms of better revenues earned, but has also created big grain shortages on the local market and pushed up prices of beans and maize, according to the Rwanda Grains and Cereals Corporation.

Wenslars Bahati, the Rwanda Grains and Cereals Corporation (RGCC) operations manager, told Business Times that traders from the region were even buying grain with high moisture content to dry and clean it themselves, while local buyers waited until the produce was fully dry.

“Traders from Uganda and Tanzania were buying grain that had 21-25 per cent moisture content because they have good post-harvest handling facilities and skills, but for us we had to wait until the moisture content was 16 per cent.

This put us at a disadvantage leaving us to fight for the little produce left on the market,” he said in an interview.

RGCC is currently buying first grade maize at Rwf380 a kilo, up from Rwf280 previously; Rwf370 for second grade and third grade is at Rwf360, with the ‘undergrade’ going for Rwf350 per kilogramme.

Traders and millers in Huye District, Southern Province, quoted a kilogramme of maize also at Rwf380, an increase from Rwf200 over the past two months, but said the prices were still rising. Beans are at Rwf320, down from Rwf500, thanks to the onset of the harvest season.

In Eastern Province, the main maize producing areas, maize goes for Rwf330 per kilogramme when buying from farmers, and traders sell the grain at Rwf350 in Nyagatare and Gatsibo districts, while beans have shot up to Rwf450 per kilogramme from farmers, and Rwf500 from produce dealers.

Cassava flour is at Rwf600 a kilo in Huye, up from Rwf450, while that of sorghum costs Rwf450 from Rwf400 previously.

Maize is one of the main foods consumed in Rwandan homes, with the country’s total maize demand estimated at 900,000 tonnes per annum, according RGCC.

“This is the first time in the history of the grain sector that prices have skyrocketed to this level immediately after the harvest season. What will happen in coming months with the fall armyworm attack?” Rwanda Grains and Cereals Corporation’s Bahati wondered.

RGCC projected the shortages to widen both locally and in the region as neighbours Tanzania, the DR Congo, Uganda, and even Kenya are also experiencing grain shortages.

New factories that have opened shop in Kigali and use grains and cereals as raw materials, like Africa Improved Foods, have also added pressure on the stock sending prices up, according to Bahati and Olivier Ngoga, the East Africa Exchange (EAX) operations manager.

Kigali-based EAX is a regional commodities exchange for grains and cereals. Bahati predicted the maize prices to settle at Rwf400 by August (with additional supply from the region) before coming down to about Rwf300 a kilo.

Farmers, millers speak out

Produce traders and millers in the Southern and Eastern provinces attributed the increase to various reasons, including disease and drought that led to poor maize harvest and eventual shortages.

Jacques Nkurunziza, a maize miller in Mukoni village, Cyarwa cell in Tumba sector, Huye District, said millers are counting losses, adding that the 2017 season, which started from September 2016 to February 2017, was a big challenge for maize millers and farmers because of the maize mosaic disease and drought that affected the crop.

He told Business Times that a kilogramme of the grain was at Rwf380 in Huye from between Rwf200 and Rwf250 two months back.

Nkurunziza said he used to harvest over one tonne of maize previously, but his yield was just 200 kilogrammes last season due to maize mosaic and drought.

Aloyz Sibomana, a member of KOASIMU, a maize millers’ cooperative in Huye, said the cooperative managed to buy only 10 tonnes of maize last season compared to 40 tonnes procured during a similar season in 2016.

For the ordinary man, the situation has been made worse because Huye has many institutions that compete for the grain with residents and buyers from neighbouring countries, including Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda, he added.

Pierre Celestin Gatsinzi, a maize trader in Huye town, said shortage of sorghum in the district has also compounded the problem.

Meanwhile, Grace Uwimana, the president of KABOKU, a cooperative of maize and beans growers in Kagitumba, Matimba Sector in Nyagatare District, Eastern Province, said the prices were expected to continue the upward trend.

“We didn’t have enough rains in Nyagatare, especially for maize because the crop needs more rains compared to beans. So, we expect the prices to increase further in the coming months,” he told Business Times.

But Viateur Hakizimana, a model farmer in Rwimbogo, Gatsibo District, said most of last season’s harvest “went out of the country”.

Hakizimana, who is also a beans and maize trader, however, was positive the prices of beans could drop soon because the crop is about to mature in Gatsibo.

May 19, 2017: New Times