Rwanda faces the risk of a maize shortage due to farmers hoarding their produce partly fuelled by speculation.
Meanwhile, it remains difficult to import additional supply from the region to fill the gap.
Yet official figures from the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resource show that maize production in the last year increased to 424,204 tonnes from the 357,665 tonnes the previous year.
However, the current production is not sufficient to meet growing local demand for home consumption and for use as a raw material by local industries.
Rwanda Today has learnt that the situation may worsen in the coming months as stocks reduce. According to local processors and dealers in maize, the price of the commodity is steadily going up countrywide.
While there has been an artificial shortage created by shrewd farmers and dealers who hoard the maize in anticipation of better prices, with import supply now limited, maize prices are expected to increase faster than expected.
Maize is not only a staple for most Rwandans, but it is also used as a raw material by several manufacturers especially of beer.
“The prices of maize have risen steeply and are continuing to go up,” said Moses Ndayisenga who is in charge of quality assurance and buying maize in Minimex Rwanda.
According to Minimex Ltd, the country largest producer of fine maize products, locally-produced high quality maize was going for Rwf260 per kilo three weeks ago.
Currently, the price has gone up to Rwf290. Low quality maize which was going for Rwf220 per kilo has jumped to Rwf250 per kilo.
Maize dealers partly attribute the shortage to limited supply of imports from neighbouring countries following trade disruption as a result of ongoing works at Gatuna border and the standoff between Uganda and Rwanda, which has affected regional trade.
“Local supplies are the only available source for maize we have, as the imports from Ugan- da are no longer coming in due to the border issues and Tanzanian imports are not meeting the standards,” said Mr Ndayisenga, adding that the situation is likely to get worse if conditions do not change.
“We foresee that by mid- May, the price of maize could jump to Rwf300 per kilo,” added Mr Ndayisenga.
Data from the Eastern Africa Grain Council, the regional Agriculture Trade Intelligence Network, shows that maize prices in local markets across the country have gone up.
The Eastern Africa Crop Monitor Bulletin shows that on average, the price of maize has been increasing since last year as a kilo was being sold for below Rwf120 per kilo in some local market places.
The bulletin shows that a kilo of maize was being sold for Rwf118 in Rubavu market; Rwf219 in Bugesera District and Rwf195 in Rusizi District.
Dealers say that even the Tanzania maize imports of Rwf300 per kilo, which could rescue the situation are not well dried, which adds to their price as it costs around Rwf40 per kilo to dry them.
However, last week Cassien Karangwa, director of Internal Trade at the Ministry of Trade and Industry said the government is aware of the shortage and is addressing it, but added that the situation has not reached an alarming level. He also attributed the shortage to bad weather.
“The issue is not alarming but we are working to see that ar- eas with shortages get access to imported supplies from neighbouring countries or districts with bumper harvests,” said Mr Karangwa.
He added that, “Countrywide there is a shortage of maize due to bad weather.” “Apart from the bad weather, farmers have decided to take advantage of the situation by hoarding available supplies in a bid to sell for higher prices,” said Mr Karangwa.
“Exports to Rwanda from Uganda and Tanzania were above average because of a structural deficit in production amid growing demand for maize and flour for domestic consumption and re-exports to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo,” said the Regional Cross Border Trade Bulletin.
The reports shows that that Tanzanian exports to Rwanda increased by 186 per cent in the last quarter of 2018 compared with the previous quarter.