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KIGALI, Rwanda, July 22 (IPS) – Rwanda is seeking to reduce post-harvest losses by relying on new technologies to increase the amount of food available for consumption and to help smallholder farmers meet a number of challenges being caused by the overproduction of basic crops.
For more than 20 years, Cyriaque Sembagare, a maize grower from Kinigi, a mountain village in Northern Rwanda, had survived farming to feed his extended family, but struggled with the loss of a significant portion of his crop to rot. High levels of aflatoxin prevent farmers in remote rural Rwanda from selling maize to high-value buyers.
“I sold maize in the market, but I got a low price because of the very perishable crops,” said the 56-year-old farmer in an interview with IPS.
Post-harvest losses are high in Rwanda, with smallholder farmers losing an average of 27.5 percent of their production annually.
A comparison with the global and African scenarios indicates that Rwanda is doing well in preventing food loss and waste (72.5 percent). The country is on average slightly behind in the area of sustainable agriculture (71 percent). According to the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) sustainability index, it ranks among the lowest achievers in addressing nutritional challenges (71.2 percent).
To increase resilience and reduce post-harvest losses, the government and several development partners have supported thousands of farmers who face various barriers ranging from lack of knowledge to poor market access.
The initiatives include innovative post-harvest processing solutions to improve food security in this East African country. The country ranks 59th out of 67 countries on the latest Food Sustainability Index (FSI), developed by The Economist Intelligence Unit with BCFN.
While Rwanda tops the list of nine low-income countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, the country lags behind in tackling food waste.
FSI research by the Economist Intelligence Unit, based on data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), indicates that in terms of annual food waste per capita, Mozambique outnumbers African countries by 1.2 kg, followed by Rwanda (1kg) .
This high level of waste has prompted the government and partners to promote modern technologies to address post-harvest losses, including two types of drying machines: mobile grain dryers and Cob Dryer machines that have been successfully tested on corn, rice and soy.
“The aim was to reduce the risk of crop degradation or contamination from various fungi that occur when dried naturally and affect food availability,” said Illuminée Kamaraba, division manager post-harvest management and biotechnology at Rwanda Agriculture Board.
During the implementation phase, Rwandan researchers had started testing Cob dryers on other crops such as Roselle (Hibiscus). About 400 kg was dried before samples were taken to the laboratory to check that the nutrients had remained intact. This method focuses on limiting crop exposure to aflatoxin.
Before the technology is expanded nationally, a study is planned this year to measure the impact of these innovations, especially the use of drying machines.
“The new technologies are complementary to some traditional food preservation methods,” Kamaraba said.
Currently, Rwanda has purchased ten mobile drying machines for the pilot phase to process 57 to 84 tons of well-dried and refrigerated grains per day.
The mobile grain dryers usually use electricity but can be connected to tractors to run on the diesel powered burner where there is no electricity supply.
For the cob dryer, the burner and fan depend on the supply of three-phase electricity and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), while the cob container (carriage) is a tractor-pulled vehicle.
According to official forecasts, the new technology, promoted through private and public partnerships (PPP), aims to help Rwanda achieve 5 percent of post-harvest losses by 2024 — up from the current 22 percent for grains and 11 percent for beans.
Jean de Dieu Umutoni, one of the experts at Feed the Future Rwanda, Hinga Weze, a non-governmental organization working to make agricultural and food systems more resilient to Rwanda’s ever-changing climate, told IPS that the idea behind this innovation was to increase access to post-harvest equipment and solutions
“This has been implemented through various channels, such as grants, especially for smallholder farmers,” he said.
Both Umutoni and Kamaraba are convinced that if Rwanda is to implement the public-private partnerships to reduce post-harvest losses, gaps in the knowledge of smallholder farmers, especially in remote rural areas, must be filled.
So far, Hinga Weze and Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB) have worked together to develop some guidelines that will enable the private sector to use the new technologies. However, experts say the biggest challenge for farmers is lack of information on how to access suppliers. In contrast, the suppliers lack information about the growers who need the equipment.
Umutoni says that while public-private partnerships can introduce good practices, governments need to support technological innovations to scale them up.
“There is a good start in using mobile dryers to reduce food waste, but the private sector needs to be involved in other crop value chains,” Umutoni told IPS.
While it is the government’s job to initiate solutions, experts argue that the private sector has a role to play in making the technology sustainable.
An example of this is the ‘Cob Model’ by Hinga Weze. This project enabled a private sector operator to help farmers by using the first large mobile drying machine in Rwanda. It has a drying capacity of 35 tons in three hours or about 100 tons per day. The NGO, together with the Rwandan government, developed guidelines for the use of the machine.
There is already evidence that these technologies will be successful.
Farmers, such as Sembagare, are satisfied.
“The application of smart post-harvest technologies has allowed me to save half of the crop that would otherwise have been lost,” Sembagare told IPS.
© Inter Press Service (2021) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service
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