Rwandan farmers pin their hopes on new technology to tackle food losses

Rwanda has introduced mobile drying machines as part of an innovative solution to reduce post-harvest food losses Credit: Aimable Twahirwa
  • by Aimable Twahirwa (kigali, rwanda)
  • Inter Press Service

For more than 20 years, Cyriaque Sembagare, a maize farmer from Kinigi, a mountainous village in northern Rwanda, had survived from farming to feed his extended family, but struggled with the loss of a significant part of his crop by to rot. High levels of aflatoxins prevent farmers in remote rural Rwanda from selling maize to high-value buyers.

“I have been selling corn in the market, but they gave me a low price because of the highly perishable nature of the crops,” the 56-year-old farmer told IPS in an interview.

Post-harvest losses are high in Rwanda, with small farmers losing an average of 27.5 percent of their annual production.

A comparison with the global and African scenarios indicates that Rwanda is doing well in preventing food loss and waste (72.5 percent). The country lags slightly behind on average in sustainable agriculture (71 percent). It is among the lowest performing in addressing nutritional challenges (71.2 percent), according to the sustainability index of the Barilla Food and Nutrition Center (BCFN).

To increase resilience and reduce post-harvest losses, the government and different development partners have supported thousands of farmers who face various barriers, ranging from lack of knowledge to poor market access.

The initiatives include innovative solutions in post-harvest handling to improve food security in this East African country. The country ranks 59th out of 67 countries in the latest Food Sustainability Index (FSI), developed by The Economist Intelligence Unit with BCFN.

While Rwanda ranks first among the nine low-income countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, the country lags behind in addressing food waste.

FSI research conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit, based on data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), indicates that in terms of annual per capita food waste, Mozambique ranks above the African countries with 1.2 kg, followed by Rwanda (1 kg). .

This high level of waste has led the government and its partners to promote modern technologies to address post-harvest losses, including two types of drying machines: mobile grain drying machines and ear drying machines that have been successfully tested on corn, rice and soybeans. .

“The objective was to reduce the risk of crop degradation or contamination by different fungi that occur when they dry naturally and affect the availability of food,” Illuminée Kamaraba, Manager of the Division of Postharvest Handling and Biotechnology, told IPS. Rwanda Board of Agriculture.

During the implementation phase, Rwandan researchers had embarked on testing Cob drying machines on other crops such as Roselle (Hibiscus). About 400 kg were dried before taking the samples to the laboratory to verify if the nutrients remained intact. This method focuses on limiting the exposure of crops to aflatoxins.

Before expanding the technology across the country, a study to measure the impact of these innovations, especially the use of drying machines, is planned for this year.

“The new technologies are complementary to some traditional methods of food preservation,” Kamaraba said.

Currently, Rwanda has purchased ten mobile drying machines for the pilot phase to process 57 to 84 tonnes of well-dried and cooled cereals per day.

Mobile grain dryers primarily use electricity, but could be connected to tractors to run their diesel burner where there is no electricity supply system.

For the corncob drying machine, its burner and fan depend on the supply of three-phase electricity and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), while the corncob container (the wagon) is a vehicle pulled by a tractor.

According to official projections, the new technology, promoted through public-private partnerships (PPPs), aims to help Rwanda achieve 5 percent of post-harvest losses by 2024, up from 22 percent today for cereals and 11 percent for beans.

Jean de Dieu Umutoni, one of the experts at Feed the Future Rwanda, Hinga Weze, a non-governmental organization that works to increase the resilience of agriculture and food systems to the changing climate in Rwanda, told IPS that the idea behind it innovation was to increase access to postharvest equipment and solutions

“This has been carried out through different channels, such as subsidies, especially for small farmers,” he said.

Both Umutoni and Kamaraba are convinced that for Rwanda to implement public-private partnerships to reduce post-harvest losses, it is necessary to bridge the knowledge gaps of small farmers, especially in remote rural areas.

So far, Hinga Weze and the Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB) have worked together to develop some guidelines that allow the private sector to use new technologies. Experts say, however, that the biggest challenge for farmers is that they lack information on how to access suppliers. In contrast, suppliers lack information about the producers who need the equipment.

Umutoni says that while public-private partnerships could introduce good practices, the government must support technological innovations to scale them up.

“There is a good start with the use of mobile dryers to address food waste reduction, but the private sector must be involved in other crop value chains,” Umutoni told IPS.

While it is the government’s job to initiate solutions, experts argue that the private sector has a role to play in ensuring that technology is sustainable.

An example of this is the ‘Cob Model’ by Hinga Weze. This project has enabled a private sector operator to assist farmers by using the first large mobile dryer in Rwanda. It has a capacity to dry 35 metric tons in three hours or around 100 tons per day. The NGO developed guidelines with the Rwandan government for the use of the machine.

There are already signs that these technologies will be successful.

Farmers like Sembagare are satisfied.

“Thanks to the adoption of smart post-harvest technologies, I was able to save half of the harvest that would otherwise have been lost,” Sembagare told IPS.

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© Inter Press Service (2021) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service


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