Rwanda’s vast meat export market remains untapped, thanks to ill-equipped abattoirs, limited investment in processing and transportation that see informal dealers in raw meat and live animals dominate the value chain.
In particular, abattoirs operators in border districts say huge demand for meat in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo remains largely unmet because space and storage facilities at slaughterhouses are not enough, while limited transport means see only a portion of the orders delivered in times of high demand.
In Rusizi for instance, the Kamembe meat traders’ co-operative indicate that the available abattoir can only accommodate 50 cows despite daily demand that sometimes shoot up to 100 cows, of which 80 per cent goes to the neighbouring Bukavu town.
The area until now has no official slaughterhouse for pigs and goats despite the demand for their meat equally being high across the border.
Head of the area's 70-member meat traders co-operative society Jean Pierre Habiyaremye told Rwanda Today there was a need for a slaughterhouse with the capacity to handle at least 100 cows daily, 200 pigs and 500 goats if the growing demand is to be regularly met.
“When there are more than 50 cows that need to be slaughtered in the abattoirs, especially when meat demand shoots up, members are compelled to vacate and give room for others.
It’s problematic because our slaughter method is an archaic with no machines, no cold rooms,” said Mr Habiyaremye.
“We deliver using two refrigerated vehicles and they are enough for the 50 cattle heads we are able to handle for now.”
Capacity problems were also cited in Rubavu, another busy border point to Goma town with a huge unmet demand for meat and its byproducts.
It has now given rise to the trade of live animals to different locations in DR Congo to be slaughtered amid the inability to process and transport meat by those involved in the trade.
nastase Nkurunziza who ran an abattoir at Petite Barriere in Rubavu said trade in live animals fetched relatively higher prices in Congo, and this was exhibited by the higher prices offered for livestock in the local markets where local abattoirs operators faced stiff competition.
“Unlike now that Covid-19 killed the business, Congo traders offer as Rwf30,000 higher on a cattle head compared to what locals buyers are willing to pay. It seems they earn a huge profit margin on the meat they sell beyond Goma because the volumes proceed to as far as Kinshasa, and that’s why many prefer buying live animals,” he said, adding that a kilo of meat fetched Rwf3,350 in Goma.
Similar issues were documented in a 2016 abattoir assessment by the ministry of trade and industry.
It had put the monthly export of livestock to DRC at estimated 35,180 cattle heads, 36,670 sheep and goats heads, and 25,920 pigs heads, despite many abattoirs underutilising their installed capacity which would be used to divert this livestock to their facilities.
Unspecified volumes of hides and skins were also exported in their raw nature despite unmet demand for the products in the country.
Ministry of trade and industry now indicates that Government was pursuing a strategy that could reverse the trend after securing the Rwf1.04 billion grant from the African Development Bank towards the implementation of the Meat Value Chain Trade Competitiveness Project.
The project specifically seeks to enhance the capacity of private sector actors in the value chain to increase exports through market linkage activities to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in particular, with a focus on busiest border crossings connecting to Goma and Bukavu.
“Our intention is to put an end to the export of live animals. We will focus on alleviating the limitation that faces the meat processor and abattoir operators. The target is to increase the quantity of export of processed meat by at least 20 percent,” the ministry said in an e-mail to Rwanda Today.
Details of the project show that the government intends to almost double the export of meat products to 150,000 kilograms by 2022 from estimated 80,364 kilograms last year. This translates into a value of Rwf680.7 million from Rwf364.7 million.