Dairy farmers in the northern and western parts of the country are counting losses after Mukamira Dairy, the sole processing plant in the area stopped taking grade two milk produce last month, without advance notice.
Rwanda Today has learnt that the processing plant, which buys strictly grade one milk from dairy farming communities in Nyabihu, Rutsiro, Ngororero, Rubavu and Musanze had been buying almost 100,000 litres of grade two milk every week, for export to Uganda since February.
Farmers said on October 14 the plant rejected their milk citing the suspension of an existing contract with a buyer in Uganda.
Gad Tegeri Gahaya, head of dairy farmers in the Mukamira zone told Rwanda Today this resulted in additional losses for dairy farmers the area who, due to accessibility challenges, had only been selling 35,000 litres out of between 100,000 to 105,000 litres estimated total daily milk produce.
“Milk collection centres have stopped buying grade two milk, and until recently farmers were dumping thousands of litres or giving it away. It is a difficult situation for farmers, and authorities are trying to come up with solutions,” said Mr Gahaya.
The management of Inyange Industries, which runs Mukamira plant, was yet to get back to Rwanda Today by press time, but sources say that milk exports to Uganda were stopped over failure by the buyers to pay their arrears. Mukamira had been delivering grade two milk to Uganda by road through the Gatuna border using trucks, which transported between 40,000 litres to 42,000 litres per a trip, according to farmers.
This enabled farmers to sell the milk rejected by Mukamira Plant whose current absorption remains at only 60 per cent of the milk delivered at collection centres.
Farmers said authorities had since intervened by approaching individual milk byproducts makers who were buying a small volume of the grade two milk at Rwf140 a litre.
“We have supported SMEs able to process grade two milk and make dairy products such as fermented milk, yoghurt and cheese,” said Solange Uwituze, deputy director-general in charge of livestock at the Rwanda Agriculture Board.
However, the development highlights the long-standing challenges facing dairy farmers countrywide, where despite having huge milk production, processors are unable to increase their operating capacity.
Official data shows the processors, who include Inyange industries, Blessed Dairy in Gicumbi, are unable to absorb at least half of total daily milk production, which increased sharply to more than two million litres daily last year owing to good results of initiatives like Girinka programme as well as promotion of high-yield livestock farming practices.
The head of the National Dairy Federation Gashumba Gahiga suggested that oversupply saw buyers only buying milk of the highest standards, something that has seen farmers, particularly in remote areas, stuck milk surplus, which they have to sell informally sometimes at throwaway prices.
RAB officials told Rwanda Today in addition to exploring other external markets and expanding local milk consumption, the government was considering the possibility of putting up a dairy plant that can make powder milk and other alternative such as casein.
A survey by this paper found that grade one milk currently sells at Rwf220 a litre at collection centres, but farmers in surveyed areas ended up selling at Rwf180 a litre after incurring testing fees and co-operative contributions.
Grade two milk, until recently, sold at a relatively lower price ranging between Rwf70 and Rwf140 a litre.