The cost of one kilogram of Gikungu variety potatoes has surged to an astounding Rwf2000, causing widespread disruptions in consumer patterns and raising concerns among the population.
Additionally, the price of Kinigi variety potatoes ranges from Rwf700 to Rwf800.
This price hike is unprecedented in Rwandan memory, prompting many to ponder the age-old adage, "time will tell."
The surge in potato prices can be attributed to a delicate combination of climatic uncertainties and economic speculations. Historically, the northern and western regions of the country were known for their abundant potato production. However, the landscape has significantly transformed over time.
Apollinaire Karegeya, a respected farmer from the Musanze district, sheds light on the climatic dimension of the issue.
He points out that major climate disruptions, particularly in the Nyange and Kinigi areas, affected nearly 80% of the potato crops last May.
Flooding during that period wreaked havoc on these regions, exacerbating the potato shortage.
However, the challenges facing Rwanda’s potato market are not limited to climatic factors alone.
Testimonies gathered from local traders suggest that some of the potatoes sold in Kigali might be originating from Malawi, a country with which Rwanda has no direct trade agreements.
It has been reported that these products are being registered as Tanzanian before entering the Rwandan market through the Tunduma border post on the Tanzanian side.
Dr. Florence Uwamahoro, the Deputy Director General in charge of Agriculture Development at Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Board (RAB), offers insights into another dimension of the problem.
She suggests that the current shortage is primarily a result of the choice of crop cycles. Dr. Uwamahoro remains optimistic about the future, emphasizing ongoing efforts to promote potato cultivation.
The Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI), Dr. Ildefonse Musafiri, has disclosed that Rwanda’s annual potato consumption exceeds one million tonnes, while local production falls short at 700,000 tonnes.
This glaring gap necessitates imports, despite Rwanda’s considerable agricultural potential.
The Minister of Trade and Industry, Dr. Jean Chrysostome Ngabitsinze, acknowledges the decline in local production and confirms that the majority of potato imports come from Uganda and Kenya.
However, he expresses skepticism regarding allegations involving Malawi.
Rwanda Inspectorate, Competition and Consumer Protection Authority (RICA) has initiated an investigation to clarify the current state of the market.
Mrs. Béatrice Uwumukiza, RICA Director General, has said that the institution is committed to safeguarding the interests of Rwandan consumers during this uncertain period.
In this tense context, individuals like James Mudaheranwa, an agronomist at Seed Potato Fund (SPF), see an opportunity.
SPF has around 23 branches in ten districts that grow potatoes to help farmers in need of seeds.
According to Mudaheranwa, SPF can store up to 15 tonnes per year but stressed the need for farmers to be also actively involved in the storage of potatoes for themselves as a backup.
SPF aims to stabilize the market by providing high-quality seeds.
Mudaheranwa is confident that, despite the challenges, increased cooperation among stakeholders in the sector can ensure adequate potato production to meet the country’s needs.