Rwanda is courting Kenya to help in developing its struggling horticulture industry. “Kenya, come set up and work with Rwandans”, was the strongest message delivered by a delegation from Kigali that participated at the International Flower Trade Exhibition in Nairobi last month.
A Kenyan, Simon Ethangatta, who is working with Rwanda’s Ministry of Agriculture as the technical advisor, horticulture development, said Rwanda lacks the sophisticated infrastructure required to fully exploit its potential and instead of building from scratch, the country wants to work with Kenya that has built world class facilities for fresh produce.
“Kenyan growers are among the best in the world and we are looking forward to their bringing expertise to Rwanda so that we can fast-track establishment of farms instead of reinventing the wheel”, he said. Mr Ethangatta, a former chairman of the Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK), led a delegation from Rwanda that was on a mission to hunt for established exporters willing to invest in Rwanda.
The country has an ideal climate for fresh produce. “The entire country is an highland with year-round rainfall making it one of the best endowed for horticulture, with a natural humidity for long stem and big headed flowers that are a favourite of international markets”, he said.
He added that Rwanda can supply summer flowers when Kenya gets into dry spells. “Summer flowers in Kenya are grown by smallholders who rely on rain fed farming therefore when it is dry, supplies dwindle and this is where Rwanda wants to step in”, he said.
At the moment, the country is not exporting much and most of the fresh produce is consumed locally or in the regional markets.
Other reports indicate that globally, there is a shortage of fruits and vegetables like green beans (French beans) and sno peas which can do well in Rwanda and these have been identified for development as exports. FPEAK chief executive officer Stephen Mbithi concurs that Rwanda’s climate is wonderful for the crops and that Kigali is keen to work with Kenyan growers. “We have even met President Kagame who is personally pushing for the partnerships,” he said.
Rwanda’s push for horticulture development kicked off in 2006 when the government established the Rwanda Horticulture Development Agency (Rhoda) that was mandated to assess the potential of the sector and introduce new crops. The goal was to seek ways of growing fresh produce to the level of tea and coffee, the country’s key agriculture exports.
Last year, Rhoda was swallowed by the National Agriculture Export Board that was established to promote the country’s agricultural exports. Head of horticulture at the board, Nsanzabaganwa Epimaque said Rwanda wants to borrow from Kenya’s experience in fresh produce trading and production.
According to Tony Nsanganira, head of agribusiness, Rwanda Development Board, the government has positioned horticulture as key to diversification of exports to bridge trade deficit by increasing foreign exchange earnings.
“We are seeking partnerships with Kenyan firms,” he said disclosing that they have met and initiated discussions with a number of growers who will soon visit Kigali to conclude details.
He added that Rwanda, currently rated by the World Bank as the most investment friendly in East Africa and third on the continent has recorded an average of six per cent GDP in the past six years making it attractive for foreign investment.
To woo investors, the country has established a 24-hour one-stop-shop to register businesses, issue work permits, visas, banking, legal and statutory services in one office ran by the board. “This has been one of our winning strategies as it saves investors time and inconvenience of moving to different offices and departments to obtain the necessary documentation,” he said.
Amidst this rosy picture, Rwanda has serious challenges which will make the country take longer to grow this sector. Its being landlocked makes shipping of fresh produce a headache while the small volumes make airfreight costs too high. “Airlines have said we must grow our volumes to bring down the cost of freight”, Mr Ethangatta said.
The handling logistics of fresh produce are inexistent especially the cold storage and refrigerated trucks and investing in these also requires the volumes. A cooler installed by the government at the Kigali airport in 2009 remains idle. Other facilities like pack houses and packaging materials are not there.
The country’s land consolidation policy remains a thorny issue among Kenyans, said a source who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of land matters across the region. “Considering that Rwanda is a densely populated country, the government is consolidating land to create farms; displacing people in the process and this could be a potential source of conflict in future putting investments at risk”, the source said.
By CATHERINE RIUNGU