Rwandan fruit farmers are anticipating a buffer produce this season but have expressed concerns of lack of markets for their products as a result of impact of coronavirus on the economy.
Anastase Munyaneza, 45, is an orange farmer in Rwinkwavu sector, Kayonza district who started a food crop farmer but shifted to fruit farming because it is profitable and resistant to the hot season.
Through the Project for Rural Income through Exports (PRICE) project, he received a training in fruit growing and a grant of 500 orange stems and 800 avocado stems to start up a 4 hectare fruit farm where he had invested Rwf500, 000 in purchasing land.
Before coronavirus, Munyaneza was able to earn Rwf2.4million in the first harvest and expects to have a bumper harvest since each tree gives off a maximum of 600kilograms per harvest and output can last for 50 years.
However, Munyaneza says he has failed to get market for the fruits on the local market due to coronavirus which has also negatively affected the market selling prices.
“We no longer get buyers and we are now selling three oranges (which make a kilogram) at Rwf100 instead of Rwf300, a price we didn’t anticipate six months ago at the start of the planting season,” Munyaneza said.
Munyaneza explained that lack of market for oranges is because most of the clients, who are in Kigali, are not able to come and buy from his farm as a result of the impact of coronavirus on the business sector.
Munyaneza’s project is one of the 959 selected bankable business plans under the Price Project horticulture component that got funding to start fruit farming for export and supplying the local market.
Under the project model Rwf2.6billion was offered to farmers as a grant to top-up 50% of the banks loans that they had received through a collaboration between the Business Development Fund (BDF) and Price Project.
Farmers also received 170, 000 fruit seeds (Oranges, Avocado, and passion fruits) prepared for planting. With this investment, beneficiaries say they were anticipating a big market as demand for fruits increased locally only to be destabilized by the coronavirus crisis.
Rwamagana district passion fruit farmers like Justin Uwitonze, 45, and Virginia Murebwayire, 55, who both received farming grants under the Price Project horticulture component and loans through the Business Development Fund (BDF) also say that they have felt the impact of coronavirus on fruit farming despite a buffer produce.
Murebwayire, a former teacher turned farmer has cultivated passion fruits on 1ha which she started in 2015.
She was supported by Price Project to get a grant of Rwf9million and a BDF bank loan of Rwf9million to kick start her fruit project.
Currently she harvests 100kgs of passion fruits per week and she expects a high output in October and November and because of the good weather, she expects 500kgs of passion fruits.
Before coronavirus, she was supplying fruit exporters like Garden Fresh ltd but with the halting of global flights Murebwayire’s business faced a setback in markets and prices.
“I used to supply 400 kilograms per week and to sell at Rwf1000 per kilo, meaning I used to get Rwf400, 000 every week but now I sell to local markets at Rwf500 or Rwf600 per kilo because our buyers have cut back on activities,” Murebwayire said.
Murebwayire remains positive as her concerns could soon be resolved as the country plans to reopen all commercial and passenger flights this August 1st.
However, at this selling price, Murebwayire and other farmers who were funded with agro grant and loans in fruit farming, say that they may have problems with repaying which they are supposed to pay at every harvest at an interest rate of 18%.
Maurice Habiyambere, the Price Project Operations coordinator at the National Agriculture and Exports Board (NAEB) says that farmers under this project will be assisted to cushion the impact of Covid-19 on their projects.
Habiyambere said they have started negotiations with the stakeholders and banks in the project to find a way of easing the financial pressure on farmers.
“There is a possibility the affected farmers will get an increased grace period on loans to stay in business and for the project objectives of boosting the export sector to be attained as planned,” Habiyambere
Habiyambere said that despite the Covid-19 hiccup, this support will be done to ensure that small farmer’s growth for export objectives are sustained as planned in the project.