BRD turns round Ruhango fortunes using cassava
BRD’s cassava processing plant in Kinazi, Ruhango district has become a catalyst for economic development in southern province in line with the bank’s strategy to fund projects with high growth potential and significant socio-economic impact.
In order to enable the factory function properly, local authorities plan to rehabilitate the feeder roads while electricity and piped water have been extended to the area for the first time. This is in addition to direct employment the factory, the first of its kind in the country, has created.
The Frw 6 billion factory is part of Rwanda Development Bank’s growing investments in agriculture sector—that has risen over the past four years from Frw 4 billion in 2008 to Frw 16 billion this year.
The plant commenced commercial production in mid April when President Paul Kagame, who initiated the idea, inaugurated it. It produces high quality flour both for local consumption and export. Previously, local people used rudimentary methods to process the flour that was hardly consumed beyond the local area because it was of poor quality. “Our flour did not meet market standards because we would reuse water for washing cassava more than 10 times. With this modern factory, we are now going to make very good flour, said Helena Mukamugema, a local cassava farmer.
According to Mukamugema, despite the long time and many resources they used to process the flour in the past, the quality remained poor and the product could not attract a good price.
Kinazi factory has an installed capacity of 20 tons per shift and can operate two shifts per day, according to Jack Kayonga, BRD chief executive officer. The facility uses 60 tons of raw cassava per shift.
All the waste is treated and/or used to make animal feeds and fertilizers—another boost to farming.
According to Kayonga, the bank’s goal is not purely profit-motivated but to help Rwandans live better lives. “Even though we can get our investment in 10 years, for BRD as an institution, the overall benefit is about improving the quality of people’s lives,” he says.
Indeed life in the area has changed for the better. For example, the company employs 34 people in addition to hundreds of casual jobs that become available depending on volume of the work.
The presence of the factory in the area presents a lot of opportunities for local farmers – more than just processing cassava. So far, the plant deployed five agronomists in five districts of Ruhango, Muhanga, Kamonyi, Nyanza and Gisagra – the leading cassava producing districts – to give farmers modern farming tips. This includes farming methods that will improve yields, use of fertilizers, organized harvesting and handling of production from farms to collection centers.
Cooperatives are also being strengthened to act as channels through which advisory services are delivered to farmers. Each sector now has a cooperatives officer.
Currently, farmers are assured of a farm-gate price Frw 40 per kilo of fresh cassava while at the factory it is Frw 50. This means that the factory has given farmers a sure market for their produce.
Although bad roads remain a challenge in transporting cassava to the factory, district officials promise to upgrade them soon. Francois Xavier Mbabazi, the mayor of Ruhango district says rehabilitation of the road from Ruhango town to the plant will start by July 2012. Other roads will be rehabilitated through community service, umuganda.
In a move that will give the product international market acceptability, Rwanda Standards Board has already started checking the quality of the flour produced by the plant. The product was tested for starch content, moisture content and acid ash. Findings indicate that it is better than the flour currently on market locally and in the region, it is also expected to have a shelf life of two years, says Robert Runazi, the Managing Director of the plant.
Land consolidation is helping to ensure constant supply of raw cassava. Officials say that there is enough cassava to ensure that the factory operates at full capacity. Ruhango district alone expects to plant 10,000 ha of cassava this year.
In this regard, the bank has taken the first step by providing cassava farmers with loans so as to grow enough cassava. “The bank received more than 50 loans applications from farmers, which have been approved and funds disbursed towards growing cassava,” said Kayonga. He said BRD is also seeking land to grow even more cassava.