Only an estimated 18.3 per cent of fruits and 1.5 per cent of vegetables produced in Rwanda are processed or given added value, an audit by the National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA) has found.
The technology audit for fruits and vegetables value chain was carried out to determine the available technological capability in a bid to improve the competitiveness in the fruits and vegetable sector.
The findings that were released in Kigali on Friday were carried out between February and June.
The average annual fruit production in Rwanda was around 56,900 tonnes, while vegetables were estimated at over 317,900 tonnes as of 2018, according to 2014-2018 period figures from the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR), which were cited by NIRDA.
Kampeta Sayinzoga, NIRDA Director-General said there was a large market for fresh fruits and vegetables in the country, but pointed out that value addition was also required to have longer shelf life products with higher income.
"The government's wish is that such fruits [and vegetables] be processed to have value addition. This has not yet been adequately realised because of several reasons including firms' limited means in terms of finance, technology, and access to market," she observed.
"The second factor is that there are still post-harvest losses," she said, calling for joint efforts between all concerned players and need to provide means to address such challenges.
Meanwhile, post-harvest losses in horticulture such as fruits and vegetables were estimated to about 40 per cent, according to 2017 joint assessment by the University of Rwanda (UR), Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) and National Agriculture Exports Development Board (NAEB).
As per the audit, there are very limited technologies used in Rwanda for vegetable processing, indicating that about 45 per cent of audited firms rent used facilities to perform their operations.
The most processed/value-added fruits were pineapples (for 55.3 per cent of audited firms). Other most processed/value-added fruits were passion fruits, strawberries, and mangoes.
The most processed/value-added vegetables were chilies and tomatoes, with vegetable products currently processed including chili sauce and oil, and tomato ketchup.
Machinery, cold room facilities needed
The audit exposed that there was a gap in the maintenance of cold storage during post-harvest handling of fresh produce as only 5 per cent of assessed firms have a refrigerated truck (as a mobile cooling unit), while 9 per cent have a cold room to safely store fresh produce for a relatively longer period.
In addition, there is a lack of means, infrastructure, and better planning to adapt to irregular rainfall distribution throughout the year, whereby there is a large or excess supply of produce during the rainy season and shortage during the dry season.
The audit recommended the provision of cold rooms at firms which would also contribute to adapting to changes in produce availability as a result of climate change.
Speaking to Sunday Times, Jacqueline Mukashyaka, Chief Executive Officer of Champion Grocers Ltd said the issues they face include lack of their own processing equipment, cold rooms to keep products safe for long, efficient transport means as well as a shortage of raw material supplies during the lean season.
Her firm makes natural pulp - with no sugar, chemicals or other ingredients added - from fruits and vegetables, such as pineapple, beetroots, strawberry, tree tomatoes, mangoes, and passion fruit, which it sells to entities such as supermarkets and individuals that want to make beverages.
But, though her company is based in Kamonyi District, it has to rent equipment from Huye District, where it processes such products.
"Some agro-processing factories wanted us to supply them a huge amount of mango and strawberry pulp so that they use it to make juice and yogurt. However, we don't have the means to meet their demands," Mukashyaka said, pointing out that the company processes about 2,000 tonnes of fruits and vegetables per month, and sells over 5,000 litres of pulp per month.
For her to scale up her production and to meet the demands, she said she needs machinery whose cost is estimated at $252,000 (over Rwf200 million).
Overall, the inspected firms' turnover increased by about 90 per cent in the last four years, from Rwf3.9 billion in 2015 to more than Rwf7.5 billion in 2018. They also bounced back as they got rid of a loss of Rwf698 million in 2016 to a net profit of Rwf509 million in 2018.
Further reporting by Viviane Irabizi.