Improved foods: Rwandan farmers reduce losses with nutritious grains

A private processing company in Rwanda is working with thousands of farmers to train them in the production of fortified crops for processing into nutritious products. Their partnership is increasing profits for local smallholders as well as helping to combat Rwanda’s high levels of malnutrition.

In Rwanda, farmers are suppling a local agri-processing company with fortified crops for processing into nutritional products, such as multigrain porridge © Sophie Mbugua

Over 24,000 maize and soya Rwandan farmers are currently being contracted to supply one of the country’s main manufacturers of enhanced nutritious foods – Africa Improved Foods(AIF). In a joint venture with the country’s government, the company aims to improve the nutritional status of its population. AIF also provides farmers with training in best farm management practices and post-harvest handling techniques, enabling them to increase yields and reduce losses. The company dry and mill the maize, which is mixed with soya and minerals in the production of fortified food, containing key vitamins and mineralslike potassium, magnesium, iron and calcium.

Contracted cooperatives, through which the farmer training is provided and the grains collected, have increased from nine in five districts to 110 in 21 districts since 2016, explains Elisha Rugambwa, AIF field coordinator. “In 2016, when the programme started, we collected 4,000 t of maize from farmers and 6,000 t in 2017. During the September 2017 to February 2018 season, we have already collected 6,000 t,” Rugambwa says.

Contracting has enabled Fina Mukantwari, a 46-year-old mother of six from Nyaruguru district, to rent and grow maize on an extra 9 ha of land at a government-subsidised rate of FRw 1,000 (€1) per ha. Previously, Mukantwari sold her produce to middlemen, whose inaccurate measuring system – using local tins rather than kilogrammes – meant she usually sold at a loss.

Mukantwari is now a member of the Abishijehamwe Urwonjwa cooperative society and, in 2017, sold 450 kg of maize on the cob at FRw 187 (€0.18) per kg. “We grow and sell as a group, increasing profits, reducing losses and improving quality as we sell immediately after harvest,” she explains. “We used to sell our maize to informal collectors who bought the maize at a lower price compared to AIF’s. Currently, 1 kg is sold at FRw 130-140 (€0.13-0.14) on the local market while AIF buys 1 kg at FRw 187. It’s a big profit for us,” says Faustin Nshimiyumukiza, president of Abishijehamwe Urugwiro.

In 2017, World Vision partnered with AIF to facilitate market linkages between maize farmer groups and AIF. “We provided farmers with agricultural training to teach them about the AIF business model in order to respond well to the company’s strict quality requirements,” says Ryoichiro Mochizuki, World Vision project manager. As a result of the training, the rate of AIF’S rejections due to poor quality of the maize reduced from approximately 90% in 2017 to 25% in early 2018.

The nutritious products, such as multigrain porridge, are mostly intended for young children and breastfeeding women to help address the levels of malnutrition and stunting in the country and the Eastern African region at large. Already distributed across Rwanda and exported to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, AIF plans to double the number of contracted farmers in the next 3 years and start exporting to Kenya and Tanzania in the coming months.

Sophie Mbugua

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.