With the new cob model, Rwandan farmers can opt to do less post-harvesting work while increasing their maize revenues. Elisha Rugambwa coordinates local maize sourcing at African Improved Foods (AIF). He explains the benefits of this new model. "By processing maize at a central facility, we increase quality, nutritional value and income for farmers."
Maize produced in Rwanda does not always have the required quality levels. AIF factories rejected about 90% of Rwandan maize in 2016-2017 because it had aflatoxin. This is a natural toxin in mouldy maize and corn. As a result, AIF had to import maize, and local farmers lost part of their profits.
How can a project solve a problem like this?
"We had to improve the quality of local maize, so we started the cob model in 2018. This is how it works. We buy maize on the cob and process it a few days after harvesting. We use machines to dry and shell the maize in central processing facilities. Then we transport the maize to the factory before the quality declines. This method reduces post-harvest work for farmers and increases their revenues."
What was the project's biggest challenge?
"We had to build a relationship based on trust with the farmers. Farmers are afraid that buyers will take advantage of them, so they were reluctant to sell us the cobs at first. Luckily, MinAgri and Agriterra helped greatly. Now the farmers see that it works very well for them and their community. Our biggest challenge now is capacity. We need more machines and processing sites to serve farmers better."
In what way was the partnership crucial?
"Every partner has their area of expertise. MinAgri is our Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources. It helped draw up maize value chain-related policies. It also helped influence the formal pricing of maize on the cob in Rwanda. Agriterra helps cooperatives build capacity by processing information and providing management training. The Sight and Life Foundation actively monitors and evaluates the project. AIF supports quality control and assurance, produce pickup, post-harvest equipment, handling, and payments. We ensure system stability by involving all parties in their commitment to the agreements."
What are the biggest successes so far?
"The biggest win is that we were able to reduce the rejected maize from 90% to 5%. We also increased local maize sourcing from 20 to 80% last year. We want to locally source 100% of the maize we process in Rwanda in a few years."
Nearly half of the farmers you work with are women. What role does gender play in this project?
"In Rwanda, women mainly carry out farm work such as harvesting, shelling, cleaning, and winnowing. With the cob model, the women do less post-harvest work. For example, they no longer have to dry maize outside in a humid and rainy climate. It also gives them more time for other activities like developing their businesses."
What does AIF use the maize for?
"Maize is an ingredient in porridge and posho. Public institutes serve these meals. AIF processes maize, among other ingredients, into fortified blended foods and porridge for pregnant or lactating women and kids over 6 months. This is distributed inside and outside Rwanda to fight malnutrition, a worldwide problem."
How has SDGP helped this project?
"The SDGP funding helped us buy machines and generate knowledge while sharing it with our farmers. The cob model would not exist without it. SDGP also supports the partners in working together and creating government awareness. We want to ensure the government adopts the cob model. And I can proudly say that the Rwandan Ministry for Commerce and Trade has announced a minimum market price for maize. The ministry is now considering minimum prices for maize grain and cobs. That is a great result."
The project will continue until 2024. What plans do you have for the coming 2 years?
"We will continue working with cooperatives and use their networks to mobilise fellow farmers. We aim to spread our knowledge and maximise the cob model, also outside AIF's activities. This way, Rwanda can eventually source more maize within the country."
SDG Partnership facility
The SDG Partnership facility (SDGP) helps to achieve the following sustainable development goals in developing countries:
- SDG 2: ending hunger
- SDG 8: decent jobs and economic growth
- SDG 17: partnerships for the goals.
To reach these goals, it is necessary to work together. That is why SDGP works with public-private partnerships (PPPs) between government, businesses, NGOs and knowledge centres. Find out more about SDGP.
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