Exporters of horticulture products are incurring losses due to limited cold room storage facilities for perishable products such as vegetables and fruits, which have a short shelf life.
There was a bumper harvest this year due to good rains, which saw farmers suffer losses due to lack of cold room storage and an external market for their produce.
“There was overproduction and the cold rooms at National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB) and elsewhere in the country all got filled up. Farmers who couldn’t directly ship their goods to markets were unable to store their products,” said Pie Ntwari, the public relations and communications officer at NAEB.
Farmers were harvesting every day during the harvest season, yet they could only export three times a week because RwandAir currently flies to Europe on that schedule. Lack of adequate cold rooms saw some of their perishable goods go bad.
“We are encouraging farmers to keep some of their harvest in local cold rooms in order to avoid losses,” said Mr Ntwari.
He added that demand for the country’s horticulture products in foreign markets is also still low and, which forced farmers to sell in local markets at a low price.
Mr Ntwari said that despite the major steps taken to adhere to international standards, there is still a quality deficit when it comes to meeting the set standards for international markets.
Other horticulture exporters pointed out the lack of drying equipment as an even more pressing issue, especially during the rainy season because they rely on the sun for drying their produce.
“Lack of drying equipment is another major problem for us because we suffer during the rainy season,” said Twahirwa Dieudonne, the managing director of Gashora farm, which produces chilli oils.
Mr Dieudonne added that another challenge is expensive seeds and a gap in post-harvest handling, which affects their revenues.
Another challenges is reducing the rate of rejects in the market, which stand at 15 per cent.
However, RwandAir’s shipping discount of $0.95 per kg that exporters have been taking advantage of to transport their cargo to foreign markets in Europe, has been a major reprieve to many and has boosted revenues.
In 2017, the horticulture sector generated up to $21 million in revenues up from $12 million in 2016 — a 75 per cent increase.
Majority of the country’s horticulture products, which include vegetables like French beans, hot pepper, snow peas and fruits like avocado, passion fruit and pineapples, are exported to markets in France, UK, Netherlands and Dubai.
The government expects to generate $140 million from horticulture by 2020 and currently the sector contributes three per cent to GDP.