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Potato Processing Plant Rwanda not buying potatoes, say Nyabihu farmers

Nyabihu district residents on a guided tour at the potato factory (Courtesy: KT Press)

Potato farmers in Nyabihu district in Rwanda are at crossroads after a factory recently built in their region has failed to buy all their potatoes.

In March, the state owned Nyabihu Potato Company was officially switched on to begin processing Irish potatoes into different products including the famous potato chips.

However, the factory only worked for one day and has not worked again. Potato farmers in the district are wondering why the factory hasn’t worked again.

Theoneste Uwanzwenuwe, the district mayor told KT Press, “there are basic equipment that were not yet shipped by the day of inauguration. Hopefully, the equipment will arrive in a couple of days.”

The Director General of the factory, Evariste Hakizimana has refuted any delay allegation. He told KT Press that since its inauguration, the plant never stopped.

“We are in a trial period; testing quality standards, acquiring packaging materials and putting in place a strong marketing team,” he promised the plant will be fully operational in the next two weeks.

The factory has a target of processing 9 tons of potatoes per day in production of fresh clean potato, chips and other potato products.

However, the factory has barely bought 2 tons of Irish potatoes from two farmers’ cooperatives, against an estimate 495 tons they would have acquired, if they had been working optimally in 20 working days per month.

“The plant is there indeed, but we don’t know yet which purpose it came to serve because none came to demand for the Irish potatoes,” says Jean Pierre Kamana, one of the farmers.

Like Kamana, other farmers in the proximity of the plant say they had never seen the products of the plant. This pushes them to say, “The plant is idle.”

The Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Business Development Fund (BDF) invested Rwf 780 million in the plant equivalent to 97% majority shares.

The cooperative of Rubavu potato farmers (COIMU), have a 3% stake in the plant.

Nyabihu Potato Company is part of the ‘Uruganda Iwacu’ initiative that intends to create small and medium industries that meet the needs of citizens in a particular area, to especially promote agriculture products.

In the same context, Burera milk processing plant was launched last year.

Government’s objective is to show a strong management model, to make returns from such ventures and then pull out for the farmers to take ownership.

In several occurrences, farmers misunderstood management of agro processing plants which leads to under production.

Mount Meru Soyco, a Rwf 9 billion soya processing plant in Kayonza district failed to optimize production after farmers declined to grow soya beans because they think beans may earn them more compared to soya’s price at the plant.

A similar crisis was reported at Kinazi cassava plant in Ruhango, southern province. It was worsened by a cassava disease which destroyed cassava varieties across the country.