Rwanda banana processing industries get financial boost from research, innovation fund

RWANDA – Banana processing industries in Rwanda have received a Rwf50 million (US$55,000) grant from National Research and Innovation Fund set to improve technologies and quality in production of banana beverages.

The fund was launched mid last year and it aims at supporting local innovations as well as research for development in the country.

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National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA) is one of the institutions that got the grant for implementing the project, Enhancement of processing technologies, quality and competitiveness among banana beverages in Rwanda.

Grace Irakiza, the Standards and Certification Specialist at NIRDA said that the project aims at handling post-harvest losses for banana crops by upgrading and increasing banana processing industries.

Banana is a traditional and priority crop for food security in Rwanda grown by many but there is inadequate value addition to mitigate post-harvest losses.

Overall, the banana sub-sector covers about 23% of the entire cultivated land in Rwanda, estimated at 900,000 hectares.

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Cooking banana accounts for over 40% of banana plantations while the rest is for beverage manufacturing.

A large number of clones are grown, including the local East African highland for cooking, beer cultivars (AAA-EAHB) and (AB, ABB) and dessert types (AAA, AB). 

For the last 15 years, beer cultivars have dominated banana production (increasing from 67% to 71% at the expense of dessert types) according to Food Security Research Project 2000

Studies show that post-harvest food losses are currently estimated to be between 30% and 50% of total food production depending on the type of products and the storage conditions

Despite the existence of industries investing in handling post-harvest losses through adding value of bananas, NIRDA’s study shows that about 70% of banana processing industries still rely on manual practices, 19% of them are semi-automated while only 1% of them are fully automated.

Studies further show that lack of access to technology remains a key challenge to the sector, which is characterised by low levels of automation, outdated practices leading to poor productivity and output quality reports The New Times.

“Even though we see more businesses seeking to invest in banana processing especially banana wine, they still lack access to processing technologies and skills for quality products.’’

‘’Lack of quality could affect consumers. So as we want to provide capacity building for the processors, facilitate technology transfer which means we will develop technologies to improve banana farming practices in villages,” said Irakiza.

She explained that they will also develop diagnostic tool for self-assessment for the processors.

“We conducted research and found there is an issue of bad flavour in banana wine which must be improved to attract consumers. We will also set up platforms for SMES in the banana value chain so that the banana wine and beverages products are internationally traded,” she said. Rwanda produced over 759,690 tonnes of cooking banana in 2018 from over 724,540 tonnes in 2017.

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