Plans are in advanced stages for shareholders to invest $1.8 million (about Rwf2bn) in revamping the struggling Kinazi Cassava Processing Plant to increase its production capacity, The New Times has learnt.
The funding will according to officials be provided by government through the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
The announcement follows the recent pledge by President Paul Kagame during the citizen outreach in Ruhango District – where the plant is located – to help stimulate economic activity in the area.
Kinazi cassava processing plant is currently operating at just 35 per cent of its production capacity.
The plant is owned through a joint shareholding between the Development Bank of Rwanda (BRD) and Agaciro Development Fund.
Jerome Bizimana, the CEO of Kinazi Cassava Plant told The New Times that during the next six months, they will look for modern and appropriate processing machines.
"The production capacity is still at 35 percent due to old machines that must be replaced. We need to replace them so that we increase production. Experts carried out an assessment and found that we need more than Rwf1.8 billion. The cost might increase due to the inflation on the market," he said.
The factory-which is currently working with over 10 active farmers' cooperatives besides individual farmers, receives cassava produce from Southern Province, Eastern Province and few parts of Western Province.
"The cassava harvest is not similar for all seasons. The produce is high during the rainy season. We process 40 tonnes of cassava per day during the good season. We operate five days per week."
He said that at full capacity, they can process up to 120 tonnes every day.
Bizimana said that by the end of September, a tender will be issued to seek a supplier who will also install the needed machinery.
"We supply both local and outside markets. At least 65 percent of the cassava flour we produce is exported. By increasing production capacity, the exports could also increase," he said.
The plant, he said, has also invested in turning waste (peels) from cassava into clean energy to operate the factory.
"Kinazi plant switched from diesel to renewable energy from cassava peels which is clean and helps reduce carbon emissions," he said.
The amount of cassava peels which the factory uses equals between 15 and 20 percent of tonnes of the cassava tubers received from farmers.
Farmers speak out
Different farmers who spoke to The New Times argued that if more agro-processing plants invest in the value addition of cassava harvest, there could be competition which can eventually benefit farmers.
More than 200,000 hectares are used for cassava growing in the country, making it the second most grown crop after bananas in terms of cultivated area.
The country produces around three million tonnes of cassava as an average production. Scaling up new varieties could increase production to about eight million tonnes, per year, with improved varieties and appropriate use of fertilizers.
"The low production capacity of the Kinazi plant discourages farmers from increasing investments in cassava growing," Vedaste Bapfakurera, a farmer from Nyanza district, told The New Times.
He explained that when the factory doesn't receive the produce from farmers, this result into losses in different ways.
"For example, in season A 2021, the factory didn't buy the whole harvest. When it happens like that, we are obliged to seek an alternative market. "
"This means if I have leased the land and have to till it twice in a certain period; I risk losing one season because the harvest must remain in the farm for a long time due to lack of buyers which leads the tilling time to expire. There is a time you can spend six months without harvesting because there is not yet a buyer," he said.
Currently one Kilogramme of cassava produce goes for between Rwf80 and Rwf100.
"The prices should also be regulated because sometimes we sell at giveaway prices. The factory should also pay suppliers on time," he said.
Emmanue Bashimyiki, a cassava farmer from Ruhango District reiterates that the lack of a sustainable market for cassava harvest and diversification of products made from cassava has been adversely affecting the way they generate income.
He echoes that the only available cassava processing plant in the area doesn't buy all farmers' produce, which reduces the income levels.
"We face post-harvest losses when the whole produce is not bought.
The cassava remains on the farms for a long time due to lack of market. In this case if we do not harvest them, it is also difficult to secure land for tilling for the next season," he said.
Bashimyiki who is member of Ruhango Cassava Farmers' cooperative said that they need standard drying facilities and other technologies for cassava which can help in preserving the harvest while waiting for buyers.
"I myself harvest over 200 tonnes in every one and a half years," he said.