Tomato value chain in Rwanda: minimizing food losses

18 May 2017

In the project 'Smart Adaptive Sustainable Horticulture' (SMART) TNO, Wageningen University and BopInc evaluated the tomato value chain in Rwanda and provided suggestions for improvement. In Rwanda most growers lack essential resources and can scarcely maintain post-harvest quality. In SMART we develop practical and sustainable greenhouse systems in Rwanda and South Africa, together with local companies.

SMART project

This project involves Dutch horticulture suppliers and knowledge institutes, and African local companies, coordinated by Holland Horti International. Innovative horticulture technologies should be made available to growers in Rwanda and South Africa. The challenge is to fit local conditions and make technologies available, affordable and accessible for local producers. Local greenhouses have been realized and training and support are being provided. 

Value chain and post-harvest losses

One objective is to improve the value chain. Loss of produce after harvesting is 30-40%, including subsequent deterioration. This leads to economic loss, often reflected in the price per kg (qualitative), or in the total volume (quantitative). In Rwanda we have evaluated the tomato value chain, recommended improvements and given training to local companies.

Factors that contribute to post-harvest losses

  • A cold chain and cold storage are generally lacking. At 25°C this reduces shelf life (15°C would be ideal).
  • The tomatoes are re-packed several times between grower and end customer.
  • Transport is facilitated by traders. They generally use too large baskets and overloaded trucks.
  • Co-operation along the supply chain is minimal and the high-end market is too small (1%) to put pressure on this.
  • Low awareness of improvement options exists, because current practice in the supply chain is long-standing.

Practical solutions to reduce post-harvest losses

Large shade cover

Harvesting can best be done early in the morning, at moderate temperatures. Tomatoes should be put and stored in crates/baskets under a large cover so as to provide shade.
Harvest loss: reduced from 30% to 15%. Costs: $33-150, based on experience elsewhere. Repayment period: 5 weeks.

Zero emission cold chamber

This is a chamber with double, sand-filled brick walls and a protective roof. The sand in the cavity is kept saturated with water to permit evaporative cooling. Plastic crates in the chamber contain about 100 kg produce. This extends shelf life from 1 to 5-6 days.
Storage loss: reduced from 8% to 2%. Costs: about $300. Repayment period: 1,5 year. Additional benefit: better ability to deal with market price fluctuations.

Low plastic crates

Handling and transport easily damages tomatoes. Replacing the high wooden crates with lower plastic crates reduces bruising and improves ventilation. Plastic crates last much longer and are easier to clean. Efficient use of the crates in the chain minimizes the need to repack the tomatoes, if the crates are exchanged in the supply chain.
Bruising loss: reduced from 30-50% to 5%. Costs: about $90. Repayment period: 10 weeks.


The required closed loop for the crates elicits the need for co-operation between business partners (grower, trader, transport company, seller). Active managing, control and tracking & tracing system for the crates is required, supported by all business partners. This improves gains and promotes investment in better production and logistic facilities.



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Drs. Robert Bezemer MTD

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