Horticulture farmers and cooperatives have called on government to address some of the challenges they face including lack of reliable market, modern storage facilities, transportation and market for produce and banks loans, among others.
They made the appeal during a meeting organised by National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB) and Project for Increasing Crop Production (PiCROP), a programme under the Japan International Cooperative Agency in Eastern Province on Tuesday.
The meeting brought together farmers dealing in horticulture and cooperatives and potential buyers.
The president of Twizere Gasabo Cooperative, Tatienne Mukarwego, cited lack of a direct market for their produce as a key challenge.
"We often sell the produce to neighbours and they pay very little amount while we should be selling our produce to a wider market," bemoaned Mukahigiro, whose cooperative comprises over 100 members.
"Besides, most banks are unwilling to lend us money to boost our activities, which leads to poverty among us. We can produce more once if we are offered the opportunity," she added.
Denis Ntirugirimbabazi, the president of CEFAPEK Farmers Cooperative based in Kamonyi District, said that horticultural produce was highly perishable, as he petitioned the government to facilitate them to acquire cold room storage facilities.
He further called for government to equip horticultural farmers with modern production skills to enable them compete with their counterparts in the East African Community.
Jean Marie Vianney Munyaneza, the Horticulture International Marketing officer at NAEB acknowledged the challenges farmers currently face but pointed out that they are seeking for solutions.
"There are many challenges horticulture farmers are facing. Their farming methods are outdated; they do not use fertilisers to increase production with some of them a bit disorganised," said Munyaneza.
He said NAEB was encouraging farmers to join cooperatives in order to guarantee a more reliable market.
He added that his institution would soon sign a contract with a Dutch company to avail seeds to farmers.
Gilbert Kalisa, a branch manager with Ngenda Vision Finance bank in Bugesera District encouraged farmers to register with the micro-finance body or commercial banks to access finances to boost their activities.
"We lend to farmers cooperatives and charge them 2.5 percent each month which is not expensive. For cooperatives," Kalisa said.
The country's horticultural sector has over 8,000 members dealing in different activities including production of fruits, flowers and vegetables as well as processing of essential oils. Members comprise of individuals, companies and cooperatives.
The sector has so far earned the country $17 million in foreign exchange since January this year compared to only $1.2 million at the same period in 2004.
Most of the produce is exported to neighbouring countries like Republic Democratic of Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, among others.
Belgium imports 20 per cent of Rwanda horticultural produce with the USA also importing a substantial amount.
Most of the exports comprise fresh beans, hot pepper and bird eye chilly, ripe bananas, avocadoes and pineapples among others
Horticultural produce is mostly grown in Kamonyi, Musanze,Rubavu,Ngoma, Kirehe, Rulindo and Gakenke districts.
The government has established collection centres in Musanze, Kamonyi, and Ngoma districts with plans to put up a cold room.
The centres are expected to address issues of potential loss of produce and enhance pricing and ensure there is a reliable market.