Two weeks into nationwide coronavirus lockdown, prices for most basic food items in many upcountry districts have dropped - some significantly - while they have generally remained stable in the capital Kigali.
Traders attribute this to the fact that this is harvest season for some essential foodstuff and fewer shoppers at major markets thanks to the lockdown.
In the City of Kigali, The New Times established that prices in Nyabugogo were lower than in other major city markets, particularly Kimironko and Kimisagara.
In most cases, vendors observed the official prices set by the Ministry of Trade and Industry last month to prevent speculative pricing while some food items cost less than the official prices.
In Rwamagana District, Eastern Province, traders were generally found to be compliant with the prices set by the Government, as was the case in Huye District, Southern Province, and Rubavu District in Western Province. The same trend was observed in Burera and Gakenke districts in Northern Province.
In the early days of the lockdown, some traders were quick to irrationally hike foodstuff prices, consequently attracting fines from government.
In Nyabugogo food market, a kilogramme of maize flour goes for between 700 to 850 Francs depending on grade or brand, while the same item stood between Rwf700 and Rwf900 in both Kimironko and Kimisagara markets.
A kilo of onions goes for Rwf500 in Nyabugogo, but can reach as high as Rwf600 in the other two city food markets.
Beans went for 700-850 Francs, cassava flour 500-700 Francs, Irish potatoes (Kinigi) Rwf350, 'Thailand rice' 1000-1200 Francs, and sweet potatoes Rwf200 a kilogramme across the three urban markets.
A kilogramme of carrots stood at Rwf400-Rwf500, tomatoes Rwf600, green beans Rwf600, beef Rwf3000, goat meet Rwf4000, and chicken Rwf3000.
In Kimisagara, a kilogramme of Thailand-brand rice stood at Rwf1100 below the maximum price of Rwf1200 set by the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Similarly, green bananas cost Rwf100 less than the official Rwf300 a kilo.
Price falls linked to harvest season
Traders in the City of Kigali said there was no need to violate the official pricing list, especially for food items the country is harvesting at this time.
"For instance, we are in harvest period for tomatoes, why should anyone hike prices when there are enough supplies?" posed a trader in Nyabugogo who spoke to The New Times on Saturday, April 4.
Another trader, Zakaria Nyandwi, who also deals in groceries at the same market, said that, while most essential food items were in plenty, demand had fallen as a result of the stay-at-home order.
"Clients are very view compared to previously," chipped in one Ingabire, a sweet potato seller in Nyabugogo market.
"I used to sell about 500 kilogrammes of potatoes a day, now it's only about 50," she said.
At the Musanze main market, part of which has since been relocated to Musanze Bus Park to help observe social distancing guidelines, prices for most of essential foodstuff and other commodities have generally fallen, some significantly.
A kilogramme of Irish potatoes now costs Rwf250 down from Rwf380 two weeks ago, fresh peas Rwf1,000 down from Rwf1,500, while fresh beans now go for Rwf500 from Rwf1,000 a kilo.
Passion fruits stand at Rwf800 a kilogramme down from Rwf1, 500; average watermelon Rwf1,500 from Rwf2,000; while tree tomato goes for Rwf400 a kilo down from Rwf800.
Tomatoes and carrots are among foodstuff that have seen significant price falls over the last two weeks. A basin of tomatoes in Musanze main food market now costs Rwf1, 500, down from Rwf6, 000, while carrots go for Rwf200 from Rwf600 a kilo.
Cabbage stands at Rwf100-Rwf150 (depending on size), down from Rwf300 previously, in Kinkware market, while pumpkins are between Rwf200 and Rwf300, from an average of Rwf500.
Avocado is now Rwf50, half the previous price.
A jerry can of five litters of vegetable cooking oil remained stable at Rwf9,000 in most of markets across Musanze.
In Huye District, Southern Province, our reporter found that prices for locally produced foodstuff such as Irish potatoes (Rwf320-Rwf350 a kilo) and banana (ibitoki) had generally either remained stable or dropped in two weeks, but most imported food items such as rice and maize flour cost slightly above the official prices.
Imported foodstuff cost more
At Gisenyi market in Rubavu District, sardines (isambaza) fish, which is popular in the area, was going for Rwf1,000 a kilo on Saturday, April 4, down from Rwf1,600 two weeks ago. Haplochromis (a fish species are locally known as indugu) stood at Rwf500 a kilogramme, down from Rwf1,000.
At Mahoko market in Rubavu, a kilogramme of Irish potatoes had dropped from Rwf350 to Rwf250, while passion fruits went for Rwf800 a kilo down from Rwf1500 two weeks ago. Cabbages stood at Rwf100-Rwf150 a piece depending on size, down from a minimum of Rwf300 a fortnight ago.
In Burera District, a kilo of dry beans stood at Rwf650 at Kirambo Market on Saturday, having been Rwf900 in mid-March
However, a 25kg-bag of 'Umutanzania' rice (imported from Tanzania) rose to Rwf30,000 up from Rwf26,000, while a kilo of salt went up by Rwf80 to Rwf200, at the same market.
At Gakenke Market in Gakenke District, a kilogramme of green banana was at Rwf200, down from Rwf260 previously, while a kilogramme of Irish potatoes went for Rwf240 down from Rwf380.
Vestine Mukasakindi, a fruit vendor in Rwamagana market, told The New Times Saturday that some traders had hiked food prices in the early days of the lockdown but the trend was stopped in its tracks when government intervened.
"The Mayor of the district himself came to the market, along with law-enforcement officers and warned us against the malpractice," she said.
At this market, a kilogramme of beans remains at Rwf700, banana Rwf200, and potatoes Rwf250-Rwf420, depending on the variety. A 25kg-bag of 'Pakistani rice' stands at 23,000. However, there was a shortage of rice variety from Tanzanian, popularly known locally as Umutanzaniya.
Drop in number of buyers
There was also shortage of fruits normally imported from the neighbouring country. Apples, lemons, passion fruit and oranges (most of which grown locally) were the most visible fruits in the market when The New Times visited on Saturday.
However, traders urged government to ease travel restrictions for people who want to go the market, saying significant drop in clients was hurting their business.
"Many people are blocked from coming to the market and advised to buy from shops in their neighbourhoods and this has severely affected us," said Mukasakindi, of Rwamagana market.
Seraphine Mukamuganga, a trader at the main Musanze market who was among those temporarily moved to Musanze Bus Park makeshift market, said: "Government should urgently look into this issue, especially considering that tax deadline is looming."
The lockdown is expected to last until at least April 19.
Rwanda has 89 confirmed coronavirus cases as of April 4.
Jean de Dieu Nsabimana in Rwamagana and Remy Uwayo in Huye contributed to this report.