Garlic farmers in Rwanda have appealed for government support, saying that the lack of access to market is hurting their earnings.
According to figures from National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB), the country has over 13,000 garlic farmers grouped in 11 cooperatives, who produce over 3,000 tonnes of garlic every year
The produce is sold both locally and in the export market.
However, the closure of borders with neighbouring countries in order to contain the spread of Covid-19 affected Rwanda's garlic exports; as a result, farmers now heavily rely on the local market.
This, they say, has led to oversupply of garlic and effectively occasioned a drop in prices.
A kilogramme of garlic drastically decreased from between Rwf3,000 and Rwf4,000 to between Rwf350 and Rwf700, plunging farmers in enormous losses.
"We are counting huge losses," Emmanuel Semugeshi, a garlic farmer from Musanze District told The New Times
Since March, Semugeshi planted 1,200 kilogrammes of garlic seeds on two hectares in an investment worth over Rwf4 million.
"Currently I am stuck with four tonnes of garlic. The produce is rotting as we do not even have proper storage facilities," he noted.
Semugeshi might lose Rwf15 million in potential revenues from over four tonnes.
Fran├žois Hakizimana, another farmer from Nyabihu District, said he has one tonne of garlic but sells a kilogramme at Rwf500 in Byangabo market
Saddled with bank debt
Semugeshi is also struggling to pay a bank loan of Rwf1.2 million.
The farmers have appealed to NAEB to set up market centres for garlic at borders.
DR Congo, Kenya, South Sudan among others are the major destinations for garlic from Rwanda. The Covid-19 outbreak slowed cargo traffic to and from these countries.
Lack of post-harvest handling facilities
For some time now, farmers have also complained about the lack of modern technologies to store their produce.
"We heard that there was a project to set up modern drying facilities that could help us avoid post-harvest losses," he added.
The proposed eight modern drying facilities and a factory to add value on garlic was announced in November, 2019. They are supposed to be set up in Gataraga Sector of Musanze District to offset post-harvest losses for farmers. The factory seeks to produce drugs, cosmetics, flour and spices from the garlic.
The Rwf1 billion project is supposed to be implemented by Business Development Fund (BDF), Post-harvest and Agribusiness Support Project (PASP) and Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resource Development Board (RAB) as well as the districts.
Officials speak out
Andrew Rucyahana Mpuhwe, the Vice Mayor in charge of Economic Development in Musanze District said they are aware of the issue and are working with NAEB to link farmers to both local and export markets.
He said some drying facilities have been completed but the factory to add value to garlic is yet to be completed.
"We are working with NAEB to rescue garlic farmers from losses. For instance, the investor in value addition will, this week, buy 26 tonnes from farmers. There is another investor from Egypt in negotiations to buy more tonnes of produce," he said.
Pie Ntwari, NAEB's Communication Officer, told The New Times that they have recommended that garlic be dried and be transformed into spices to make it more suitable for export.
"We also encourage farmers to always farm crops for which they have contacts with buyers," he added.