Rwanda: Farmers Decry High Cost of Potato Seeds

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A kilogramme of (Irish) potato seeds has increased to Rwf700 from between Rwf400 and Rwf500 in the last farming season which ended in February 2020, according to the Federation of Irish Potato farmers’ cooperatives in Rwanda.

If a kilogramme of potato seeds is Rwf700, a farmer has to invest about Rwf1.4 million per a hectare because an estimated 2,000 kilogrammes (two tonnes) of the seeds are needed per a hectare, according to data from the Rwanda Agriculture Board.

Yet, a kilogramme of potato produce [for consumption] is usually around Rwf200.

Figures from the Seasonal Agricultural Survey – 2020 Season A by the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda show that eight tonnes of potatoes were produced per hectare.

That would make about Rwf1.6 million. If production costs including fertilisers, labour force, as well as pesticides and fungicides are factored in, too little is left for the farmer to benefit.

Speaking to The New Times, Vincent Havugimana, the President of the Federation of Irish Potato farmers’ cooperatives in Rwanda said that the shortage of potato seeds is a concern for farmers and it needs to be addressed.

“There has been a shortage of potato seeds, with a kilogramme costing Rwf700 compared to between Rwf400 and Rwf500 in the previous season. Seed multipliers are few, while potato produce went down [in the last farming season],” Havugimana said.

He called for scaled up efforts to increase seed production and availability to farmers through promoting seed multiplication, highlighting the need for research development to come up with new and highly productive potato varieties.

“Available seeds are generally old which make them less productive. Meanwhile, there are about eight new potato seed varieties which were developed, but they are not accessible to farmers as they are still more at multiplication level,” he said.

The President of Seed Potato Fund (SPF) Ikigega, Apollinaire Karegeya, told The New Times that limited availability of potato seeds is partly attributed to a low number of people engaged in production.

SPF Ikigega carries out potato seed multiplication. It has between 200 and 240 multipliers in 10 districts in which it operates.

Karegeya said that the Fund sold about 600 tonnes of seeds to farmers at between Rwf500 and Rwf600, depending on variety, in the concluding farming season B of 2020.

In addition, he said, lack of required farmland on which to carry out seed multiplication business is also among the factors that cause seed shortage.

“For one to be allowed to engage in the potato seed multiplication business, they are required to have at least a consolidated five-hectare piece of land. Yet, some people have half a hectare of land, which means they fall short of that requirement,” he said.

He indicated such a criterion is intended to ensure that seeds meet standards through isolating the multiplication field from nearby farms in order to protect it from diseases, or other undesired agents.

Another factor that Karegeya said contributes to the seed issue is a lack of proper planning among some farmers who seek potato seeds just the day they want to plant, yet, such seeds take eight months to be ready.

“It seems as though some farmers think that potato seeds are like commodities regularly found in shops. Farmers should place orders for seeds so that multipliers know the amount of seeds they have to produce for them,” he said.

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