RWANDA- Rwanda’s eagerly anticipated milk powder factory, situated in the Nyagatare District of the Eastern Province, is now scheduled to commence operations in December 2023, after experiencing delays in its initial timeline.

The plant, owned by Inyange Industries, Rwanda’s largest agro-processing firm, was initially set to start its operations in May but encountered unpredicted setbacks.

The milk powder factory, representing an estimated investment of US$45 million, aimed to play a crucial role in the country’s ambitious target to increase milk production by 34% in one year, a goal set in December 2022.

Eric Rwigamba, the State Minister for Agriculture and Animal Resources, expressed his concerns about the slow progress towards this target but acknowledged the commendable progress in developing the plant’s infrastructure.

Rwanda’s overarching objective is to produce 1,250,000 tonnes of milk annually by 2024 to meet the growing demand for milk in the country.

However, the dairy sector has been heavily reliant on weather seasons, leading to fluctuating milk availability.

During the rainy season, the country experiences a surplus of milk that factories cannot process, while during dry or low seasons, milk scarcity becomes a pressing issue.

The milk plant was introduced as a solution to bridge the gap between these two seasons by storing powdered milk for times of scarcity.

The primary challenge currently facing the milk plant is meeting its processing capacity of 600,000 litres per day for powdered milk during the low season. The plant also requires an additional 200,000 litres for other by-products.

To address the issue of milk scarcity, Rwanda recently received a €23 million dairy financing injection from a Polish development bank on October 26.

This funding will be pivotal in setting up cooling infrastructure and other essential equipment to store surplus milk whenever it becomes available.

Eric Rwigamba also noted that the Ministry of Agriculture has adapted its policy on grazing from open to zero grazing to enhance overall milk production.

Under this new policy, 70 per cent of pastureland in the districts of Nyagatare, Gatsibo, Kayonza, and Kirehe, all in the Eastern Province, is designated for cultivating crops that provide cow fodder, while 30 per cent is allocated for cow sheds to enforce the zero-grazing system and boost milk production.

Eugene Kwibuka, the Agriculture Information and Communication Programme Manager at the Ministry, emphasized that these guidelines aim to help livestock farmers increase milk production by securing reliable forage and encouraging zero-grazing practices.

Rwigamba explained that cows under zero-grazing practices can produce significantly more milk compared to open grazing, with the right breed of cow capable of producing between 15 to 40 litres per day.

In addition to the zero-grazing policy, Rwanda is embracing modern farming techniques, such as artificial insemination, to breed cross-breeds that will help achieve the desired level of milk production.