Rwanda: Our Dairy Sector Needs a Whipping

Rwanda’s dairy sector remains by a plethora of challenges, albeit consisting of an oasis of opportunities yet to be explored. It hasn’t taken off mainly due to lack of a clear national strategy dedicated to whipping the dairy operations into a suitable shape. But the good news is that a roadmap is being devised by the Government in collaboration with development partners.

And this has been long overdue. Therefore, it should be super exciting for the entire dairy chain that includes input and service providers, milk producers at farm gates, milk collectors and traders, transporters, processors, distributors, value addition and consumers. Its direct synergy with the country’s Economic Development and Reduction Strategy (EDPRS) would speak volumes to the dairy farmers in Gatsibo, Nyagatare, Gishwati and other areas whose growth has been hindered in one way or another as a result of not having a clear roadmap. This linkage with EPDRS would also increase the sector’s awareness at policy level, which would play a key role in mobilising resources to move the dairy sector to the next level.

Rwanda is one of the few African countries where efficiency and effectiveness is thrown at the centre of everything. Almost all sectors seem to be functioning relatively well. But I am wondering why the dairy sector would fail to have a competent and dynamic dairy board.

Comprised of milk producers, processors and sellers, the Rwanda National Diary Board (RNDB) is supposed to play a catalytic role of fostering market growth, monitoring industry trends, facilitating coordination among stakeholders, and helping the entire dairy industry – from farmers to processors, and from sellers to consumers – to realise their full potential.

But when you speak to stakeholders, you will fall short of hearing anything with substance about the board’s functionality. Straightforwardly, the RNDB does not command authority among its stakeholders, something that has to be worked upon in order to establish a platform for the sector’s advocacy.

It is understandable that this should be driven by the private sector but the Government would still have to facilitate and ensure that the board is on the right path, putting more emphasis on its governance.

The USAID Dairy Competitiveness Project played a key role in launching the dairy board with offices located in Masaka last year, which is an acceptable milestone. But there is a massive sustainability concern if the board does not abandon the attitude of over-depending on aid handouts, and instead adopt a proactive attitude to devise a sustainable model rooted in agaciro values.

Howsoever, the milk producers, processors and sellers should also know that they have a right to create an efficient and resourceful board that will help them build a competitive and vibrant dairy sector.

There is a huge potential that is yet to be explored. Dairy production is a super pathway rather than highway out of poverty for many rural households in Rwanda. For this pathway to be productive and sustainable, it has to be a market-driven one that focuses on supplying dairy products to both domestic and regional markets.

The challenges facing stakeholders in this agricultural subsector are related to the overall system, and appropriate measures should be taken. Market demand and forces that drive the income, population, prices and cultural factors will be key in decision-making by investors at all stages of the dairy value chain.

Market participants require adequate profit margins to make necessary investments. For example, if profit margins are adequate, then farmers will demand animal health services and will pay for them.

Besides the challenges, we have golden opportunities bubbling under. A stable eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and even Burundi, would offer tantalizing marketing opportunities for our dairy products. It is established that milk flows year-round to Goma, Bukavu and Bujumbura in varying quantities.

Most milk is transported in small jerry cans by our informal sector. With better distribution systems, more packaged milk of varying product type, size and price, would be sold to these markets.

It’s high time the entire dairy chain woke up and smelt some mocha.

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