The Role Of AGRA In National Systems Development In Developing Countries: The Case Of AIF’s ‘On Cob Model’ In Post-Harvest Handling And Marketing In Rwanda.

The entrance AIF’s Headquarters in the Kigali Special Economic Zone.

The Government of Rwanda (GoR) realised that there was malnutrition in the country and the wider Region and agreed to set up a company to address the challenge by producing highly nutritious local foods. It is with the above challenge in mind that Africa Improved Foods (AIF), a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) by the Royal DSM (a Dutch multinational corporation active in the fields of health, nutrition and materials), FMO (a Dutch development bank), DFID (the British Department for International Development which was responsible for administering foreign aid), IFC (the International Finance Corporation is an international financial institution that offers investment, advisory, and asset-management services to encourage private-sector development in less developed countries and a member of the World Bank Group), CDC ( which is UK’s development finance institution) and the Government of Rwanda was created.

In collaboration with the GoR, AIF products are intended to solve the issue of malnutrition which is prevalent among the segments of societies that may be vulnerable. Africa Improved Foods manufactures high quality nutritious foods for the Rwandan and regional markets where they are exported. AIF is not only addressing malnutrition and stunting challenges but social and environmental issues in communities in which it operates.

Before it partnered with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA, AIF faced challenges in sourcing quality maize that would produce quality products in terms of enough quality and volumes supplied. The maize produce that was sourced locally had high levels of Aflatoxin. In the year 2017, ninety (90%) percent of the maize that was sourced locally was rejected due to high levels of aflatoxin. AIF tested the maize supplied at the gate and the produce which did not meet the expected levels of Aflatoxin was rejected. (In a country where agriculture is the main economic activity, with 72% of the population engaged in the sector which contributes thirty-three (33%) of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP), rejection of harvested produce hurts many more people along the value chain who have invested in its production, harvest, storage and transportation. Such loss ultimately pushes families to below poverty line especially if the invested money was borrowed. This negatively impacts farmers, aggregators and transporters but especially smallholder farmer’s livelihoods who are most vulnerable.

Aflatoxins are saprotrophic and pathogenic fungi that belong to a family of toxins produced by Aspergillus flavus. They are mainly found on agricultural crops such as maize, peanuts, cottonseed and tree nuts according to the United States’ National Cancer Institute. Crops can be contaminated at harvest and during storage. Aflatoxins are mostly found in improperly stored produce and are a major health constraint in hot and humid countries.

AIF is very sensitive to the quality of maize supplied and requires that the moisture content should be below 14%. The testing for moisture content is done at the company’s own laboratories.

Above: a supervisor giving instructions to workers inside AIF’s plant. Quality of the product is religiously observed.

Aflatoxins are saprotrophic and pathogenic fungi that belong to a family of toxins produced by Aspergillus flavus. They are mainly found on agricultural crops such as maize, peanuts, cottonseed and tree nuts according to the United States’ National Cancer Institute. Crops can be contaminated at harvest and during storage. Aflatoxins are mostly found in improperly stored produce and are a major health constraint in hot and humid countries.

AIF is very sensitive to the quality of maize supplied and requires that the moisture content should be below 14%. The testing for moisture content is done at the company’s own laboratories.

AGRA’s wok in Rwanda is aligned with the GoR’s Strategic Plan for Transformation of Agriculture (PSTA 1V)[1]. The partnership between AIF and AGRA was geared towards intervention in the post-harvest handling to ensure that the farm produce, especially locally produced maize, is well processed and handled with low or no levels of aflatoxin. Due to the lack of quality maize produce grown in Rwanda, AIF initially imported more than 80 percent (80%) of its annual maize requirements from Tanzania, Zambia and Uganda because the local maize had unacceptable level of aflatoxins.

Above: With support from AGRA, AIF was able to buy machines that increased its capacity and now buy the produce from the farmers and dry it themselves

Aflatoxin can be controlled by reducing the moisture content of the produce through using local drying sheds, referred to as gusharika in Kinyarwanda which brings the moisture levels in maize harvest from between 18-22% moisture to 14 % with no aflatoxin contamination.

Rwanda’s Strategic Plan for Agriculture Transformation phase 4 (PSTA-4) outlines the government’s priority investments in the agricultural sector and estimates required resources for the entire sector for the period 2018-2024. PSTA-4 is the implementation plan of the National Agricultural Policy (NAP) and represents the agriculture sector’s strategic document under the country’s National Strategy for Transformation (NST).

Aflatoxin can be controlled by reducing the moisture content of the produce through using local drying sheds, referred to as gusharika in Kinyarwanda which brings the moisture levels in maize harvest from between 18-22% moisture to 14 % with no aflatoxin contamination.

When sourcing directly from the farmers, the maize grain normally has moisture which requires drying.  AIF got a matching grant worth eighty-five thousand (USD 85,000) United States Dollars from AGRA with which it bought different machines; the maize Sheller which can shell maize form cobs into grain and two driers that can dry maize grains to reduce moisture content. According to the grant modalities, AGRA would provide the equivalent of forty (40%) percent of the cost while AIF provided sixty (60) percent of the cost. Each of the two (2) purchased dryers has capacity to shell twelve (12) metric tons per batch and can carry out three (3) batches per day which translates into thirty-six (36 MT) tons per day. Using manual labour, an individual can shell between fifty (50) and eighty (80) tons of maize per day. Mechanization of the process not only speeded up the process but reduced the human effort required. Thanks to the support from AGRA, where AIF earlier needed 554 people to shell 36 tons, the purchased machines do the job in a single day. The machines are automated and can remove and sort grain reducing the time and labour required to make the produce ready for manufacturing.

Above: a lorry offloading grain at AIF’s stores. The grant from AGRA has enabled the company to mechanically dry the produce to reduce moisture content, reduce aflatoxin levels and increase local sourcing to the benefit of local farmers.

With the support from AGRA, AIF can now buy directly from farmers irrespective of the moisture content and mechanically dry it in a short period, saving farmers and produce dealers who supply them, from losses associated with rejected produce.

AIF can now buy maize cobs directly from farmers, dry it and produce the final product in a short time. The support from Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa has had several benefits to AIF, Rwandan farmers especially smallholder farmers and Rwanda’s economy as shown below:

  1. The support from AGRA has increased AIF’s local sourcing from less than twenty (20%) percent in the year 2017 to approximately sixty (60%) percent today and reduced rejection of locally sourced maize due to aflatoxin from ninety (90%) percent to below ten (10%) percent thereby replacing grain hitherto imported from other countries with local purchases especially from local farmers’ cooperatives and agro-dealers who deliver to its factory.
  2. With the machines acquired, purchasing from Rwandan farmers is cheaper and easier to manage in terms of logistics, compared to imports especially those that are sourced outside the COMESA
  3. With support from AGRA, the issue of moisture content, which creates the favourable grounds for aflatoxin contamination and propagation, has been improved so much that now a mere five percent (5%) of local purchases is rejected. By June, 2021, of all AIF’s maize requirements as raw materials, sixty (60%) percent has been sourced locally and there is optimism that more maize accounting for 30% of its raw material will be purchased locally. The total purchase of AIF is therefore projected to reach ninety (90 %) percent, a far cry from the ten (10) percent before AGRA’s intervention.
  4. With a mere ten (10%) percent local sourcing from Rwandan farmers, there was debate about the viability and sustainability of the AIF’s investments in the country since maize imports, the biggest cost drivers for the company, continued to be imported. With over sixty (60%) percent local sourcing, AIF is sure its investment is viable and sustainable in the long run.
  5. The mechanization of the drying process has allowed AIF to reach its set standard of thirteen and a half (13.5%) percent moisture content. AIF’s turnaround time increased tremendously for example whereas, it took a Rwandan farmer fifty (50) days to harvest, dry, sell to aggregators before (s)he was paid, with the mechanized system supported by AGRA, (s)he needs only ten (10) days to get paid.
  6. The increase in local sourcing from ten (10%) percent earlier to sixty (60) percent today and still increasing, has enormous implications for the local maize producer, dealer, transporter and the economy as a whole given the contribution of agriculture to Rwanda’s GDP. Imports of grain from outside Rwanda negatively impacts the country’s balance of trade; spends the country’s precious foreign currency; denies local farmers, produce traders, transporters and other actors along the maize value chain incomes and stunts its growth.

Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) is a free trade area that brings together twenty-one member states from the north, east and south of the African continent. It was formed in December 1994 to replace the defunct Preferential Trade Area (PTA).

Aflatoxin contamination increases rapidly after harvesting and especially under poor storage facilities. With the funding from AGRA, AIF was able to increase its processing capacity and can today buy maize directly from the farm immediately after harvesting relieving the farmer with no adequate storage infrastructure to handle the postharvest management of the maize produced. Before the partnership with AGRA, AIF collaborated with partners to outsource most of the post-harvest activities. With funding from AGRA, AIF partnered with Kumwe Harvest and other stakeholders to introduce a new model of processing harvested maize in Rwanda using better trucking and logistics, and establishing mobile collection centres near farms. Using mobile shelling machines, maize produced is shelled and transported to AIF for industrial drying and storage in the same day. By eliminating on-farm post-harvest delays, the produce can reach the market (AIF stores) in two days instead of two months and one hundred (100%) of maize delivered still on the cob-web is accepted by AIF. The model was christened, “the Cob-Web Model”. As a result, 83% of the volume sourced in the first season of 2020 was maize still on cobs which increased its acceptability. The model is possible thanks to the support from AGRA.

Originally from: https://africaimprovedfoods.com/

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