April 24, 2019

Why Rwanda Loves Tanzanian Rice Despite High Cost

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A woman working at her rice field in Bugarama marshlands in Rusizi district – the region producing more than others in Rwanda.

A 25kg of rice from Tanzania costs up to Rwf 28,000 in Kigali, far more expensive compared to the other types of rice. But importers and retail traders are making big business from the Tanzanian imports.

In Rwanda, consumers are buying rice from three categories of sources; either grown locally, imported from Tanzania or imported from other locations like Thailand and Pakistan.

Rice grown locally is the cheapest on the market – a 25kg bag going for between Rwf 14,000-20,000. Rice from Thailand is selling at Rwf 24,000, whereas imports from Pakistan are selling at Rwf 19,000. These prices vary depending on which part of Rwanda.

What is clear is that imports from Tanzania are dominating the market; for an unusual reason – they are loved by consumers, and therefore more and more is imported.

Here, Tanzanian rice is simply called “Mtanzaniya” or “Super”. You simply pronounce any of these words, and every shopkeeper knows exactly what you need.

Wholesalers who spoke to The Chronicles confirmed that their stock of rice from Tanzania was being consumed much faster than other imports.

In Rwanda, there are 36 varieties of rice cultivated in large quantities. Scientists told us that 7 of the local varieties are short grain and 29 are long grain varieties.

Bisimati, a rice variety that has been grown locally for many years, especially in Rusizi district, is one of the best rice varieties appreciated by Rwandans. The others are Rumbuka and Buryohe. But some are expensive – going for as high as 20,000 par 25kg bag.

In a vast majority of homes in rural Rwanda, small restaurants and schools, the most-sought after type of local rice is called KIGOLI, only because it is the cheapest rice on the market. A 25ky bag goes for as low as Rwf 14,000.

Cutting taxes to keep imports coming

One of the brands of Tanzanian rices on Rwandan shelves

According data from the National Institute of Statistics, production of rice in Rwanda grew from 83,338 metric tons in 2017, up to 113,880 last year.

Nearly every marshland running through some of Rwandan’s many small hills, there is a rice field – from Kigali, to east, down to south – and on a much more large scale in south west. The only region where no rice is grown is the north, due in part to the cold climate, but also that it already is a source of other food crops, which make it the country’s breadbasket.

The government’s National Rice Development Strategy has identified an additional catchment area of 2,700km2 that gets annual rainfall of 1,500mm with 5,572 hectares of marshland in the Nyabarongo River being suitable for rice cultivation.

The ministry of agriculture announced in 2017 that it planned to develop another 7,000 hectares of marshlands across the country and an additional 23,000 hectares of hillside for rice cultivation.

Rice was introduced in Rwanda in 1960s through missions mainly from Taiwan and South Korea, with some arriving from China but on a small scales. Mass production only picked up in the last 15 years as government desperately fought to diversify food production, as well as provide employment in rural Rwanda.

There is a long list of companies and cooperatives involved in rice production including ICM Rwanda, NAVR Ltd, Dukorerehamwe Company Ltd, COTICORIZ, Nyagatare Rice Co, and Alfa Supply Food Company Ltd – which are considered the biggest players.

Despite the increased local production, the country cannot lock out imports. There has been a steady rise. Rwanda imported $37 million worth of rice in 2015, which had actually gone up from $31.1 million in 2014.

The rice strategy says if planned marshlands are cultivated, the import purse could begin to slow down to the utmost minimum, as part of the general strategy to wean the country off imports of everything.

In the 2017/18 budget read in June 2017, Finance Minister at the time, Claver Gatete, announced tax cuts on imported wheat, rice and sugar in a bid to mitigate the short supply.

The current Finance Minister Dr. Uzziel Ndagijimana did not make changes in his budget in June last year.

Rice will continue to be taxed at the rate of 45% or US$ 345 par metric ton instead of 75% or US$ 345 par metric ton, says an analysis by PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers), the global professional services provider.

Rwanda is trying to grow ‘Mtanzaniya’ rice

Rice is one of those imports. Ministry of Trade and Industry (MINICOM) data availed to The Chronicles shows that imported rice from Tanzania last year in 2018 was 15,895 metric tons, whereas the total rice imported in 2018 is 72,767 metric tons of different varieties.

Rice from Tanzania covered 21.9% of total imports, essentially leaving the other countries including regional neighbours and big Asian rice producers to share the rest of the import package.

There is massive rice production in Rwanda, but imports are necessary due to high demand

Tanzanian “Super Rice” or Umutanzaniya or Mtanzaniya, is described as delicious and having a good smell – when both raw and cooked. It is also said to expand when being cooked – making a kilo feed more people, than other varieties.

And local scientists have been working on bringing the variety to Rwanda. They have faced tough challenge because of Rwanda’s climate which does not support the Tanzanian varieties, according to Dr Innocent Ndikumana, a senior specialist at Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB).

‘Umutanzaniya’ is also tall in height and has inadequate adaptability to local diseases, said Dr Ndikumana, adding: “Not only is Umutanzaniya too long, it also falls down after it has fully grown.”

Tanzanian varieties grow to about a meter high, far above other varieties.

Tanzanian varieties were tested in Bugarama marshland, in Rusizi district – bordering DR Congo. The process has been ongoing since 2016.

“We found it has inadequate adaptability to local diseases which are different from the situation in Tanzania and now we are improving it to adapt to the climate of Rwanda. It is a process that takes between three and five years,” noted Dr Ndikumana.

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