Improving postharvest practices in Rwanda

27 July 2017

Agriculture is the backbone of Rwanda’s economy, accounting for 80% of employment, mostly on smallholder farms. Agriculture meets 90% of national food needs and generates more than 50% of the country’s export revenues. Following the devastation of the 1994 genocide, the government allocated significant resources to agricultural development, achieving large increases in production, increasing food security and reducing poverty from 57 to 45 percent.

The fragmented nature of agricultural production in Rwanda – where farmers operate multiple (and often tiny) tracts of land in different areas – leads to serious challenges in getting products to market. In addition, small farmers lack the capital, infrastructure and know-how to efficiently store, transport and market their surplus yields; this often results in postharvest losses that reduce farmer incomes and raise consumer prices.

Starting in 2009, a USAID project on postharvest handling and storage set out to build a market system in Rwanda that helps farmers supply higher value products – particularly maize, beans and rice – by supporting a more efficient and robust postharvest value chain. The project – which ended in 2013 – took a public-private approach to reducing postharvest losses, engaging policy-makers, banks, civil society, cooperatives and smallholder farmers.

In 2011, PHHS and the Ministry of Agriculture asked APHLIS to help them estimate postharvest losses in Rwanda in order to support project management and policy decisions. APHLIS extracted production and seasonal data from government reports and showed local field agents how to work with farm households – using its survey instrument – to identify key factors affecting postharvest losses. After the survey, APHLIS worked with the project partners to analyze the data and generate postharvest loss estimates for the ministry.

In considering follow up to the 2011 survey, the partners expressed some concerns that APHLIS would not able to predict Rwandan losses accurately enough, given that it relies heavily on secondary data to provide values for postharvest loss estimates. The ministry thus requested the project to help develop a survey tool with more Rwanda-specific components. A new survey was administered in 2012, which gathered extensive data on farmer’s losses along the value chain. Extension agents were trained to display physical samples of damaged produce when collecting data to help farmers more precisely estimate losses.

As it turns out, the 2012 data came close to the APHLIS-generated figures. This indicates that APHLIS’ varied and highly decentralized approach to gathering information from scientific literature and through its network members is nearly as effective as expensively tailored field studies, while being far less costly.  

The project also points to the value of APHLIS’ role as an information hub and provider of capacity building on postharvest loss. Thanks to APHLIS, the government and farmers recognized the economic returns that are possible from better postharvest handling and storage, and directed their attention to crops that would have previously been overlooked. Ministry staff are now fully trained on postharvest loss analysis and have started estimating maize losses on their own; beans and rice will follow. Importantly, the partnership between APHLIS, USAID and the government of Rwanda was successful in developing a post-harvest loss monitoring system and building the capacity of the government to continue monitoring loss trends in the future.

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