A journey towards sustainable potato seed production


Written by James Sablerolles (Programme Coordinator FFT & Acting Now) and Benoit Mutabazi (Acting Now Lead Rwanda)

The Seed Potato Fund (SPF), a Farmer Organisation supported by Agriterra since 2018, has the goal of becoming a leader in the seed potato business in Rwanda, covering all aspects of the value chain. Rwanda is the largest producer of Irish potatoes in the East African Community, which is an important Food & Nutrition Security (FNS) crop. Due to the significance of potatoes for FNS in Rwanda, the critical role SPF and its partners can play in the potato-seed value chain for food security and the degree of trust and experience built over the last years, Agriterra will be continuing its collaboration with SPF through the FNS focused Acting Now programme, running from 2023 to 2025.

This is a journey of learning. The development of the potato seed value-chain in Rwanda is an intriguing and demanding process, given its inherent complexity, multiple stakeholders, and a lengthy timeline (up to 5 years for consumption readiness). The value chain's stability hinges on effective coordination, information dissemination, long-term commitment from all stakeholders, quality inputs, and good agricultural practices to ensure higher production and improved income for farmers. With so many diverging and important priorities across the sector, Agriterra’s collaboration with SPF started with a small but impactful milestone that over time built incredible momentum. 

Major Milestones

2018: SPF follows the Farmers Advocacy Consultation Tool (FACT) with the aim to develop lobby and networking leads that can lead to a better business climate that favors sustainable growth of farmer cooperatives and organisations.

2019: SPF travels to the Netherlands and learns firsthand the advanced techniques and technologies for seed potato production, handling and storing from Dutch cooperatives and farmers. At the same time, with the support of Agriterra, SPF joins (as partner), after some heavy discussions and negotiations, a complex 7 partner strong, Sustainable Development Goal Facility (SDGP) project from RVO.nl 

2020: The 2019 FACT training delivers as SPF lobbies for and receives the support of the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI). All owners of greenhouses producing potato minitubers in the country came together to create a new Farmer Led Enterprise known as Early Generation Seed Potato ltd (EGSP) of which SPF is the main shareholder. This ensures traceability and minimizes the risk of seed leak. Keeping up the momentum, to ensure ownership and business continuation within the SDGP project, Agriterra and SPF begin exploring ways to securing external private financing for the business case. 

2021: SPF secures, with the support from Agriterra loan from a social impact investment fund from Belgium (KAMPANI). In 2021, boosting the business with a further 580k USD  and enabling the SDGP project to go into turbo drive. Furthermore, SPF advocated for land to MINAGRI on behalf of EGSP. This resulted in a land lease of 48,3 ha free of rent from the government agency RAB, in a prime location (the Gishwati forest) that prevents contamination of seed fields due to its long distance from other farms. 

2022: The building of the aeroponics facility by SPF with a capacity of 560,000 potato minitubers per season, making it the largest in the country, Within the same period, 2 new warehouses to store seeds were built.

2023: With the RVO SDGP project scheduled to end on 30th September 2023, the timing of Acting Now could not be better. The SDGP Linking and Learning event (March 2023) showcases the SPF project, and this coincides with the Acting Now inception phase. Agriterra in Rwanda decides to continue the collaboration with SPF and EGSP in the Acting Now programme (2023-2025), considering the high contribution of potatoes to FNS in Rwanda. 

The SPF management explaining the value chain process to a Dutch delegation from the RVO Linking and Learning event in March

Moving Forward with Acting Now

Potatoes are an essential staple food in Rwanda, especially for farmers in the Northern and Western parts of the country; this small, yet densely populated nation is the 6th largest potato producer in Africa. Through the Crop Intensification Programme (CIP), potato is the third most significant food crop in terms of contributing to the national GDP, covering around 4% of cultivated land in 2022. However, there are still numerous challenges such as insufficient volumes of seeds and fertilizers, pests and diseases, shortage of land, and middlemen distorting markets that prevent farmers from achieving higher yields (average of 8MT/ha in 2022). 

The stability of the seed potato value chain is reliant on efficient coordination, dissemination of information, and long-term dedication from all stakeholders. Through the Acting Now programme Agriterra will collaborate with three main farmer organisations - Seed Potato Fund Joint Ventures Ltd (SPF IKIGEGA), IMBARAGA Farmers Organisation, and The Early Generation Seed Potato Ltd (EGSP-Imbuto) - to address issues in the potato value chain and increase productivity to approximately 25 MT/ha. This will be done by stimulating the use of quality seeds, optimal use of fertilisers, and observing proper agronomic practices (GAP). Additionally, the organisations will promote organic fertilizers and other own-made solutions. 

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