All were anxiously expecting it: the farmers in order to sell off their harvest, the community to buy good quality products, and the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) team to kick-start this income generating venture. On November 10, the cassava flour processing plant started production in Mayange, Rwanda. Less than two months later, it's already a success.
Until then, farmers in the region were selling their cassava fresh to traders and buying the flour they use as staple food from the market at a hiked price. The establishment of the plant means that they will increase their income by trading a refined product instead of crude roots and they will buy the flour directly from the plant. The recent bumper harvests also mean that farmers might be able to produce enough flour to sell to neighboring Burundi, just as they did with their fresh produce.
The plant is operated by the coop which was set up in July 2007 and counts to date more than 400 members. To manage production operations, the coop has hired a full-time staff, including a technician and an accountant, at a total monthly cost of 140,000 Rwandan francs (247 US dollars).
‘Our flour is better quality than the one usually sold locally,' says Jean Damascene Hategekimana, plant manager and technician. ‘Even diabetics, who can't consume the flour currently available, can use ours'. The flour quality depends highly on the production process, mainly the soaking and pressing stages. Soaking removes cyanide and pressing gets rid of starch which raises blood sugar in individuals with diabetes.
The first day's production began with one ton of fresh cassava which was brought in by coop members from the 6 ha land they jointly cultivate. After the 4 step process – soaking, pressing, drying, and grinding – they ended up with 280 kg of good quality flour.
Ever since, this process is repeated twice a week, with a target of increasing the fresh cassava input to 3 tons each time, instead of one ton. Fresh roots are bought from coop members as well as other local farmers.
‘We are really glad to be able to sell our harvest here,' says Jean Nyamurangwa, a farmer who will get 85,000 Rfw ($150) for 1.7 tons of fresh cassava he drops at the plant, instead of having to sell it to several different traders.
The flour produced is sold at a price of 300 Rwandan francs (52 cents) per kg, which is another reason behind its success. ‘Consumers as well as traders can afford it, when we know that the market price in Nyamata (the closest town to Mayange) is 350 Rwf per kg,' adds Mr. Hategekimana. Not only is flour bought by Mayange villagers and the MVP staff, but orders have been coming in from Kigali.
The plant is also attracting seasonal workers, mostly women and young people, who peel the fresh root for a wage.
Ernestine Mukashyaka, 16, just finished primary school and for financial reasons won't be able to pursue her studies right now. ‘I'm very lucky to find a job that allows me to buy decent clothes and maybe, later on, have my own small business,' she says, while crouching over a small mound of cassava. Peeling 300 kg of fresh root will earn her 750 Rfw per day ($1.30).
The MVP invested $70,000 in the plant. The coop will pay this back over a six-year period to the Mayange community development fund which will in turn invest funds in new community based enterprises. Celestin Ndahayo, the president of the coop, has high hopes for the plant. ‘We want to mobilize more farmers and encourage them to shift from traditional cassava handling to modern flour production,' he states. The aim is to buy fresh cassava from those farmers and then sell them the good quality flour.
Aloys Hakizimana is an Agriculture Technician for the Mayange MVP. He is based in Mayange, Rwanda.