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Rwandan farmers processing pineapples into dried slices for nutritional benefits

Members of a little known cooperative of fruit farmers in Kirehe, a district from Eastern Rwanda are dehydrating pineapple to extend the storage life of fresh products and reduce bulkiness and weight and so eases long-term conservation.

This new innovative solution which also aims at providing nutritional benefits to the consumers  is known to be excellent toward addressing food waste challenge in a country where a proportion of 18.7 percent of the population is still food insecure.

Official estimates in Rwanda indicate that food losses and waste occurs “upstream” especially during post-harvest handling and storage, while the remaining occurs “downstream,” at the processing, distribution and consumption stages.

In Rwanda, out of  several tons of fruits and vegetables produced annually, about 40 per cent goes waste.

According to 2020 report by the World Bank, food loss in Rwanda represents 12% of annual GDP, 21% of total land and contributes 16% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Organic pineapples

After removing skin and eyes from the fruit with a sharp knife, slices are prepared for better presentation and make handling easier.

The sliced pieces, are then coated with powdered sugar before pieces are stored to permit the raw sugar to infuse into the fruit during a process which normally takes one hour, while being held in a sealed container.

Currently Tuzamurane cooperative processes 2 tonnes of dried pineapples from 40 tonnes of fresh pineapples every month at their facility thanks to the production generated from cultivating organic pineapple on more than 150 hectares.

Dried fruit is fruit from which the majority of the original water content has been removed. This is done either naturally, through sun drying, or through the use of specialized dryers or dehydrators.

The cooperative has been processing pineapples since 2003 and began exporting them in 2005, according to the cooperative management. “Our aim is to export 36 tons per year, meaning three tones monthly, by 2020,” said Jean Damascène Hakuzimana, the president of the cooperative.

Pineapple, according to experts in food science is known in to be excellent for drying whereby in this product, most of the free water of the fruit is eliminated.

Utilization of the raw material

Fruits are then cut into uniform pieces or slices of not more than 10 mm thick so that it will dry more evenly as thin pieces dry faster than thick ones.

Some experts in food preservation say the preservation of fruits entails the partial utilization of the raw material but some chemical products such as ascorbic acid are used to treat sliced pieces of pineapples before and after dehydration to extend their storage life.

“During their storage, sulfur dioxide slows deteriorate changes, such as severe darkening in color and off-flavors,” says Sylvestre Barajiginywa, project manager at Tuzamurane cooperative who is also expert in food conservation.

Thanks to these innovations, some local food processing plants Rwanda are ordering dried slices pineapples for producing fruit juice.

It is estimated that out of the achievable yield of 32000 to 40000 kg acre-1 of pineapple produced, 25% goes to waste, according to the government’s National Agriculture Export Board (NAEB) which helped farmers across Rwanda to plant 2.5 million pineapple suckers.

Easiest method of preservation

Estimates show that the total European imports of dried fruits have grown annually by 9% in value, reaching € 11.3 billion between 2017 and 2020.  Over the same period, estimates show that imports have grown annually by 3% in quantity, reaching 2.9 million tonnes and Tuzamurane cooperative is a major contributor to this lot.

According to French online supermarket Amazon.fr, a kilogram of Organic Dried Pineapple costs at least 32, 20 € including VAT.

France imports from Rwanda; leguminous vegetables, shelled or unshelled, fresh or chilled. Dates, figs, pineapples, avocados, guavas, angoes and mangosteens, fresh or dried at 4.9% of total quantities imported from Rwanda.

Drying remains the oldest and easiest method of preservation, but food drying in Rwanda is typically for fish, cereals, grains and some vegetables.

Limited knowledge among farmers 

However, little knowledge exists among farmers for drying of tropical fruits where the most common method is using the dehydrators for removing water or moisture from pineapples.

“When drying foods, the key activity is to remove moisture as quickly as possible at a temperature that does not seriously affect the flavor, texture and color of the fruit,” says Hakuzimana, the head of cooperative who is convinced that dried pineapples are a good source of energy because they contain concentrated fruit sugars

Yet dried pineapples are tasty, nutritious, lightweight, easy-to-prepare and easy-to-store and use, Rwandan government through NAEB has implemented since last year a three cold room packing house with a capacity of 30MT to facilitate and support the horticulture sector and preparing it for export opportunities.

According to George William Kayonga, CEO of NAEB, this packing house is the only certified public Packing house for handling fresh fruits and vegetables in Rwanda.

The ongoing process of certification of the facility in accordance to international food safety and management standards will increase consumer confidence in the produce exported from Rwanda.

Kandama Jeanne

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