Local rice farmers are calling for government intervention to sell their excess produce, because they are being forced to sell their produce at a loss, well below the production price.
Farmers say their prospects have been dampened by rice imports, which are cheaper and of a better quality.
For instance, in Kirehe more than 1,500 tonnes of paddy rice are locked up in stores because farmers are unable to get buyers for their produce.
The situation has exposed over 700 rice farmers to major financial losses with some saying they were unable to pay their bank loans.
Local rice produce is usually bought by co-operatives and other buyers in the country, but this time even the co-operatives have large stocks of rice bought in the past season.
The president of Kirehe rice factory Javier Iyamuremye told Rwanda Today that they have over 2,000 tonnes of rice bought in season 2018B because of a lack of market.
“We won’t be able to buy all the rice from farmer’s co-operatives this season because we are not hopeful about finding a market for the current stock,” said Mr Iyamuremye.
“We agreed with farmer’s co-operatives that this season we will only buy 1,000 tonnes of rice out of over 2,000 tonnes because of low capital resulting from failing to sell the previous stock,” he added.
This season Kirehe rice farmers expect to harvest over 3,000 tonnes of rice.
“The other key difficulty encountered is that the rice cultivated in Kirehe is of poor seed quality. It is called Oryza glaberrima (Asian rice) locally called umuceri wakigori, which also contributes to the lack of buyers,” he added.
This poor quality rice isn’t competitive in the market against other types of rice from East Africa.
“We’re requesting the Ministry of Agriculture to help us find better quality seeds,” said Mr Iyamuremye.
Beatrice Mukeshimana, a rice farmer in Kirehe, said buyers from the rice industry also take long to pay.
“They buy our rice and take it to the factory from the first season, but we reach another season of harvesting when they haven’t paid the old debt,” said Ms Mukeshimana.
When we demand for our payments from the factory they tell us they are yet to get buyers and ask us to go collect our rice.
“We want the government to help us find a market for our produce,” she said. However, some farmers are considering moving away from commercial farming to avoid further risks especially when they fail to pay their bank loans as it puts their personal property at risk of being auctioned by the banks.
“I borrowed Rwf1 million from a local saving scheme to grow rice in the hope that I would make profits and repay back the loan.
However, with the price of a kilo of rice going for between Rwf200 and Rwf250, I am worried that this season I may not recover the money I invested,” said Eve Mujawimana, a rice farmer in Karubanda marshland in Tumba.
Ms Mujawimana called for government intervention to either find them a market for their produce or set up a storage facility where they can keep their produce as they wait for the prices to increase.
Theophile Mutabaruka, who is in charge of production and industry expansion policy at Tumba rice factory, said the company is not capable of buying all the rice from the farmers’ co-operative, thus leaving a lot of stock with farmers. Gerald Muzungu, mayor of Kirehe District said they are aware of the issue and are negotiating with private investors for a solution.
“We are in talks with the Ministry of Agriculture to ensure that farmers get quality seeds. We want to assure rice farmers that we will also look for new markets for the remaining 1,500 tonnes,” he said.