When Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) locally called “Kabore” broke out across the country in 2015, Vedaste Bapfakurera, a farmer from Kigoma Sector in Nyanza District , lost harvest worth about Rwf3 million on about three hectares apart from the loss of cassava seeds value he had bought.
Fortunately, six years down the road, the farmer is recovering from the losses after investing in disease-resistant cassava varieties that the government has been availing.
Government imported 17 cassava varieties from research centres abroad with eight of them are performing well.
Some of them have been deployed among farmers while others will be deployed soon according to researchers from Rwanda Agricultural Board saying professional cassava clean seed multipliers will ensure the seeds are scaled up across the country.
RAB says in the next two years, quality cassava cuttings will be ‘available from seed multipliers to all farmers’.
“We breathed a sigh of relief when the government started to import some varieties and multiply them locally. In 2016 I got new cassava variety clean cuttings. So far I have been growing some of the varieties that resist diseases and they have increased production,” he said.
Bapfakurera said that a farmer should also invest their own efforts in good agricultural practices as a way of ensuring good yields.
“I closely monitor my land besides planting new cassava variety clean cuttings. Today I can harvest over 25 Kilogrammes per cassava tree which I had never recorded before. The production has drastically increased thanks to new varieties such as the one we called “Buryohe”,” he said.
The average of cassava production had been between eight and 15 tonnes per hectare due to using traditional seeds.
However, currently the model farmer is growing new disease-resistant cassava varieties on 20 hectares where he harvests between 30 tonnes and 40 tonnes per hectare that could generate between Rwf45 million and Rwf60 million revenue once all harvested.
One Kilogramme of cassava harvest goes for Rwf75.
Appeal for stable market
It normally takes 12 months after planting cassava clean cuttings to start harvesting, he said.
“I am about to harvest. However the market is not yet satisfactory as we wish,” he said.
He said that currently the only tangible market they have is Kinazi cassava processing plant.
However, he said it doesn’t receive the whole harvest.
“For example in season A, the factory didn’t buy the whole harvest. When it happens like that we are obliged to seek an alternative market. This means if I have leased the land and have to till it twice in a certain period; I risk losing one season because the harvest must remain in the farm for a long time due to lack of buyers which leads the tilling time to expire. There is a time you can spend six months without harvesting because there is not yet a buyer,” he said.
Bapfakurera added that the price for cassava harvest is also still low.
“The factory buys one Kilogramme at Rwf85 from cooperatives but when you are an individual investor, they buy from you at Rwf75. Considering that leasing land and needed labour force are expensive, we want at least Rwf90 per Kilogramme,” he said.
He said while the Kinazi cassava plant buys from farmers at between Rwf85 and Rwf75, farmers get lower prices when they supply to other small markets.
Need for more agro-processing companies
Cassava is the second most grown crop after banana in terms of cultivated area and the fourth most consumed staple crop in Rwanda.
Over 200,000 hectares are used for cassava growing in Rwanda.
Rwanda currently produces around three million tonnes of cassava as average production and scaling up new varieties could increase to about eight million tonnes per year with in addition to appropriate use of fertilizers.
The farmer argues that if more agro-processing plants invest in the value addition of cassava harvest, there could be competition which can eventually benefit farmers.
“The value addition is an important investment that can help us get satisfactory prices,” he said.
While presenting the 2020/21 fiscal year achievements and 2021/22 budget, Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Uzziel Ndagijimana said that at least 51 agreements were signed between cassava growing farmers and cassava processing plants namely Nyamiyaga and Kinazi Cassava processing plants to ensure stable market for cassava harvest.
Kinazi Cassava processing plant is operating at only 35 per cent of its 600 tonnes production capacity per month and once fully operating at its whole capacity, farmers could benefit more.
The Ruhango-based plant’s shareholders are the Development Bank of Rwanda and Agaciro Development Fund.
With the right equipment, the production capacity of the plant can be boosted significantly.