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Rwanda standard board cracks the whip on banana beer producers with new rules

The Rwanda Standard Board is introducing new standards guidelines on processing of banana beer and wine as it seeks to bring sanity to a sector whose substandard processing, unsuitable content and packaging are putting consumers at risk and hindering the beer makers from accessing international markets.

The locally made banana beer ( Urwagwa) is processed by hands or feet depending on the quantity of banana bunches to be squeezed. Sugar and yeast, key ingredients in these traditional beers are not supposed to added according to the standards body.

Raymond Murenzi, the manager of National Standards Division at Rwanda Standards Board (RSB) said that these are to be phased out soon following new standards guidelines on processing banana wine “Urwagwa” contents and its packaging.

“The processing by using hands and feet by individuals, poor contents and packaging for those processed by machines have risks on human health. Of course there are other problems like impeding specialized market on both internal and international markets so as to boost local made products as ways of adding the value chain of banana plants,” he said.

“Urwagwa (banana beer) must generally be produced from well ripe banana crops. Only sorghum, honey and water are supposed to be added in the content to make different categories of it. Our standards have been customized to Rwandan culture. We want Urwagwa as Rwandan brand even when it reaches beyond borders,” he added.

Raymond names various banana products as ‘Urwagwa Rusanzwe’ which includes banana juice which after fermentation is added with sorghum and water to make alcohol content between 3-9 per cent.

Butunda ( umwikamire) which is between 10-15 per cent alcohol content and it includes pure banana juice and sorghum.

Researchers show that bananas on their own contain between 22 and 28 per cent of sugar and therefore no need of increasing cane sugar.

“No sugar is allowed to be added in the processing and all beer will have to be packed in glass bottles to avoid any deterioration,” he said.

Some companies, he said, have been packaging in plastic bottles while others have illegally been using bottles of other companies like Heineken bottles which can lead to their court summoning.

“The guidelines are mandatory. If regulator detects that guidelines were not respected in the processing, it is a crime and hence they will be pursued,” he added.

Farmers and companies say there is need of training and financial support to adopt to new standard processing.

“We are going first to mobilize consumers on what kind of Urwagwa they have to consume. Then very soon we will work with regulators to remove all substandard banana beer from the market.

However, individuals and farmers who process urwagwa at homes to share with their few friends are not primarily targeted,” Raymond Murenzi, the standards manager reassured.


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