Rwandans have taken to social media in a heated debate about whether it was right for Police to impound 15 trucks loaded with Irish potatoes during the weekend.
The trucks were impounded on orders from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (Minicom) which considered the consignments as illegal trade.
Initially, they were 30 trucks, but 15 of them paid a fine of Rwf500, 000 and continued with their business.
The other hesitated before paying the fines and the Irish potatoes started decaying.
“How can someone allow tons of Irish potatoes to decay while there are thousands of communities that cannot put food on the table in the festive season?,” read a post on a social media platform.
Another post said, “traders should pay the price because they broke the rules and regulations in trade of Rwanda’s Irish potatoes.”
But how did all this unfold?
Cooperatives of Irish potato farmers in Musanze district have for sometime complained about traders who buy potatoes at a cheaper prices thus affecting their business.
In normal circumstances, at harvest, farmers – mainly through cooperatives sell to accredited traders who run Irish collection centres.
From the collection centres, traders come to purchase the potatoes to supply different markets across the country and region – Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
According to Minicom, some unaccredited traders drive to Musanze and promise farmers to buy their potatoes at for example Rwf180/kg while accredited traders buy at Rwf150/kg.
After the deal, farmers harvest the produce only to find that the traders have changed their mind saying that in the process they got a better deal where farmers offer potatoes at Rwf120/kg.
“Left with no choice, farmers go for less and in the following season, cannot afford seeds to grow more potatoes,” said Vincent Munyeshyaka, Minister of Trade and Industry.
In other scenarios, the middlemen (abamamyi) reach out to farmers and propose to buy Irish potatoes still at flowering stage.
They offer them little money to solve an urgent problem and, at harvest season, they unbelievably reap millions.
After ‘stealing’ from farmers, these wholesalers ferry potatoes to Kigali and reap so much from consumers too.
For example, it was reported a few weeks ago, illegal traders would buy Irish potatoes at Rwf85/kg from a farmer in Musanze and sell to retailers at Rwf 280/kg, to make the consumer pay Rwf350/kg at Kimironko market.
Irish Potatoes for Everyone
Apparently, the recent incident has triggered Minicom’s measures that will make the potatoes affordable to everyone.
On December 29th 2017, Minicom fixed the price of potatoes at Rwf165/kg – Rwf 170/kg as a price to the farmer and Rwf 215/kg – Rwf 220/kg as retail price at the market.
To avoid fraud in between, on January 1st 2018, Minicom released a list of fines against traders who buy and sell Irish potatoes contrary to the set procedures.
The fines were set in two ways; countryside and Kigali and they mainly affect wholesaler.
In Kigali, disregarding the common price that was agreed upon in a given market will be fined with Rwf 30,000 while selling Irish potatoes without a written authorization of the Irish collection centre or selling point will be fined with Rwf 300,000 and Rwf 100,000 respectively.
In the countryside, if a wholesaler disregards the set price for the farmer, he will be fined with the difference between the set price and the price he paid, multiplied by the tons that he purchased, plus a flat fee of Rwf200,000.
If the wholesaler is caught selling potatoes without authorisation from a collection Centre, they will pay a fine worth Rwf 300,000.
Meanwhile, Minicom and other institutions have put in place an inspection committee for Kigali city and the countryside.
The countryside inspection team will check trucks loaded with Irish potatoes from farms.