The New Times (Kigali)

15 November 2012

Rwanda: Govt Moves to Address Potato Shortage

The government has procured seed growth chambers to be distributed countywide to tackle the issue of potato seed shortage which have led to the current scarcity and price increase of Irish potatoes all over the country.

Gervais Ngerero, in charge of the seed programme at Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB), made the remarks on Tuesday during a meeting at Mulindi agriculture expo grounds that brought together government officials, potato farmers and seed multipliers.

Ngerero pointed out that thanks to the enhanced capacity of RAB, seed shortage or delays would be a thing of the past, adding that plans were also underway to increase the number of green houses in the country to enhance breeding of potato seeds.

Stressing the gravity of the situation, the Minister of Agriculture, Dr Agnes Kalibata, tasked farmers and seed suppliers to uncover the root cause behind this in order for government to seek a sustainable solution.

A kilogramme of Irish potatoes is currently retailing at Rwf350 per kilogramme up from Rwf150 per kilogramme in April this year.

Farmers and seed multipliers attributed the shortage to the diminishing size of farms dedicated to Irish potatoes, lack or late access to potato seeds, and destruction of the crop from heavy rains and/or drought.

A seed multiplier from Gicumbi District, Michel Habakurama, said that farmers had now opted to cultivate cash crops like tea and pyrethrum to the detriment of Irish potatoes.

Kalibata said the government will look into the issues raised by the participants noting that no crop should be allocated more land to the disadvantage of another yet all crops are intended to boost the economy.

"The Ministry will tackle this problem in not more than three months," Kalibata told the participants

The seed multipliers had taken issue with RAB blaming it for the shortage or late delivery of seeds. Seed multipliers, who are certified private dealers, purchase seeds from RAB, multiply them and deliver them to farmers for cultivation.

The participants further cited limited financial capacity to purchase basic seeds as yet another burning issue.

However, Kalibata called for professionalisation of seed multiplication saying it was a lucrative business, if taken seriously.

She advised those present to seek bank loans using their farms as collateral but warned them to concentrate on one activity.

"Farmers must not combine potato cultivation with seed multiplication; you have to do only one activity," the minister said, saying that government would help farmers to get market for their produce.

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