A significant percentage of maize produce is rejected by agro-processing factories due to poor quality caused by high level of humidity due to poor post-harvest handling stage, Business Times has learnt.
The main problem preventing maize farmers from accessing stable markets include "aflatoxins", which are poisonous substances regularly found in improperly stored staple commodities such as maize, rice, sorghum, millet, wheat, cassava and others.
Aimable Nindenkayo, the in charge of Quality Assurance at Africa Improved Foods, said that the factory rejected 90 per cent of supplied maize produce in 2017 Agricultural Season B because of the poor quality.
"We reject such poor quality maize so as to avoid losses. We preferred to support farmers and train them on how to fight aflatoxin. In the following stage, the percentage of rejected maize reduced from 90 per cent to less than 43 per cent after sending agents on the field to handle the problem," he said.
Due to lack of needed quality, he said, the factory resorted to importing maize especially from Zambia, Uganda and Tanzania.
The factory produces between 120 tonnes and 150 tonnes of finished products per day.
He said that farmers need to access to mobile shelling facilities, suitable drying facilities, sorting and transport facilities so as to avoid high moisture that affects maize grains.
Moses Ndayisenga in charge of quality assurance at MINIMEX, a firm that produces maize flour told Business Times that only 45 per cent of needed maize grains come from Rwanda because of poor quality caused by aflatoxin.
"Of the maize we receive, 50 per cent is rejected due to aflatoxin. There is a need to invest more in drying facilities and best agricultural practices along the whole value chain so as to avoid the impact on demand," he said.
He said that the factory has the capacity to produce 35,000 tonnes per year but produces only half of the target.
"We are working with 43 maize farmers cooperatives in the country so that we help them correct the problem," he said.
According to Damine Ndizeye, the Executive Secretary of Rwanda Consumers Rights Protection Association, there is need of a study to determine the status of aflatoxin in the country and urge the government to inject money in post-harvest handling as well as biological control of aflatoxin.
Demonstration on how farmers can store maize grain.
"The level of aflatoxin is different depending on the areas. The level of such poison in Northern region is different from Eastern Region. Rwanda Agricultural Board is conducting a study which can guide us on combating aflatoxin which occurs both in the production stage and post-harvest handling stage," he said.
He said with Rwanda's vision to increase exports, industries need quality raw produce to make quality and safe finished products.
"When children consume maize with aflatoxin, they get stunted. We have to help farmers gain more knowledge of fighting the issue," he said.
Dr. Patrick Karangwa, the Director General of Rwanda Agricultural Board said there is a plan to provide drying facilities to farmers as well as storage hangars for storing the produce by to reduce humidity affecting the grains.
He said that research is also being carried out on technology that can be used in fighting fungus such as Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus) that cause aflatoxin.
"The technology used in countries such as Nigeria can reduce aflatoxin at 98 per cent has started to bear fruits," he said.
Evariste Tugirinshuti, the president of maize farmer's cooperatives in Rwanda said that in order to ensure the quality of maize produce, there is need of establishing storage and drying hangars along the maize farms across the country.
"We want to build hangars on at least 32,000 hectares of maize crop that are consolidated across the country," he said
Figures show that about 324,368 tonnes of maize produce in 2017.
Under the seven-year government programme there are plans to reduce post-harvest losses from 16 per cent to less than 5 per cent.
Figures show that as the population grows, maize consumption will increase from 227,212 metric tonnes to 245,235 metric tonnes by 2024.