Agro-proccesors tipped on niche markets

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Exhibitors wait for buyers at the just-ended expo. The cooking oil is made by a local firm, Uburyohe Ames, from sunflower. Ensuring quality and value-addition are essential for SMEs to enter new markets and become competitive. / File.

For small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs) involved in agri-business to benefit from the existing market opportunities in the country and across the region, they must observe quality in their value chains.

According to Melanie Bittle, the chief of party at USAID Private Sector Driven Agricultural Growth programme, ensuring quality along the agricultural value chain is essential for the sector to become profitable, competitive and sustainable as well as market-oriented.

Bittle added that promotion of agro-processing is one of the main priorities of the project “as it gives SMEs market advantage and boosts farmer incomes”.

Bittle was speaking on the sidelines of a conference organised by Private Sector Federation, USAID and Rwanda Standard Board to discuss ways of promoting quality among SMEs at the just-concluded Made-in-Rwanda expo in Gikondo, Kicukiro.

She 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 value chains. A total of 38 others are receiving indirect support from the programme.

The official said the project conducts awareness drives among SME players involved in agriculture so that they are able to ensure standards in all their operations.

“It is not easy for small enterprises to get quality certification. That’s why they need incentives to encourage them to embrace the process and benefit from the opportunities it offers,” she said.

Bittle added that small agri-businesses are supported by the programme to qualify for certification and hence widen their markets and contribution to national development.

The five-year (2014-2019) project is funded by USAID with a goal to increase incomes of smallholder farmers by promoting private sector investment. It also facilitates increased private sector investment into the sector by upgrading agricultural value chains.

Rwanda Standards Board director general Raymond Murenzi commended the programme’s efforts in the promotion of value-addition in the agricultural sector. Murenzi said agro-processing is central to initiatives aimed at increasing the country’s export volumes and value. He encouraged agro SMEs to embrace certification, saying government has subsidised charges for the process by 50 per cent.

He added that RSB is currently supporting 25 agro SMEs that are in the process of getting ‘S’ mark of quality.