SMEs urged to certify products to be competitive

Small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs) should certify their products for quality to be profitable and competitive on the local, regional and international markets, Raymond Murenzi, the Rwanda Standard Board (RSB) director general, has said. Murenzi added that government has subsidised the certification fees for SMEs to attract more enterprises in the sector to ensure they acquire the ‘S’ mark of quality and standards.

“When SMEs and other producers certify their products for quality, this will boost their sales and enable them to enter new markets in the region and internationally.”

The official was speaking during quality certification open day for SMEs engaged in agro-processing at the just-concluded Made-in-Rwanda expo organised by the Private Sector Federation (PSF) and trade and industry ministry.

Murenzi noted that some SMEs delay to certify their products due to lack of information about the service, while others were claiming that the process is expensive. “Under the new initiative, ‘Zamukana ubuziranenge,’ small businesses will be given information about standard and quality requirements so that they can register for certification. The project also seeks to help enterprises owned by youth, women and people with disabilities to acquire the ‘S’ mark of quality,” Murenzi explained.

He said government pays 50 per cent of the money SMEs need for certification, noting that some are required only to pay Rwf300,000 in a period of two years to get certified.

“If the whole process costs Rwf300,000, then an SME pays only a half of that amount because of the 50 per cent government subsidy…This amount is very affordable. Besides, one can pay that amount in installments.”

Fred Mugabe, the industrial development policy officer at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, said quality certification for local products and financing for export-oriented firms will help reduce the country’s growing import bill. He noted that Rwanda’s trade deficit has reduced by 10 per cent, thanks to an increase in exports.

Mugabe assured the business community that the challenge of lack of packaging materials is being addressed, saying nine factories have so far started producing packaging materials, adding that there are strategies to attract more investors in the area.

Narcisse Ndagijimana, the executive director of the Agriculture and Livestock Chamber at PSF, said quality certification is a key element for businesses to access international markets and finance.

SMEs speak out

Jean Ntezimana, a young entrepreneur who makes juice and biscuits from sweet potatoes, said some of requirements for certification are too stringent for start-ups. Though he has started the process to acquire the “S” mark of quality, he said it is difficult to meet these guidelines if one does not have an operating place or facility. He, however, said SMEs need to employ qualified staff to build consumer confidence in their products. In a related development, Melanie Bittle, the chief of party at USAID Private Sector Driven Agricultural Growth project, has said the organisation is working with 32 SMEs, and is directly supporting 94 co-operatives involved in farming and agro-processing to help them improve their supply chains. A total of 38 other co-operatives are receiving indirect support.