The Government of Rwanda is seeking interested companies or consortiums to lease, from it, the Kigali Silk Factory located in the Kigali Special Economic Zone, for investment, operation, and management. This is according to a request for proposals for leasing of silk processing factory and investment in the sericulture sector that was signed by Claude Bizimana, Chief Executive Officer of the National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB) on October 03, 2022. Sericulture is the rearing of silkworms for the production of raw silk used in the textile industry. It involves the farming of mulberry trees on which silkworms feed to produce silk cocoons with filaments that are processed to make fabrics or clothes. The Request for Proposals is aimed at attracting a suitable investor with adequate expertise and financial capacity to carry out required investments and build a suitable silk industry for export purposes. The closing date and time for the submission of all proposals is set on November 2, 2022 at 5 PM local time. The move comes after the exit, last year, of a Korean firm under the name of HEworks Rwanda Silk Ltd that had ventured into Rwanda’s silk sector. The silk factory was built by the Government in 2018/2019 – as a catalytic investment and support to the silk industry, NAEB said. Information from NAEB suggests that almost $1.3 million (about over Rwf1.37 billion) had been invested in both the Kigali-based silk factory buildings and machinery. Rwanda has been producing two main silk products, namely silk yarn and silk sheet from the Kigali-based silk factory, which has the capacity to process 70-100 tonnes of silk cocoons per year, according to the above-mentioned Request for Proposals. The facility, it indicated, is equipped with different assets including automatic reeling machines (80 ends), re-reeling machines and cocoon dryers. NAEB said the Government aims to attract an investor to work with existing support structures to ensure that the silk value chain develops on a commercial and export-focused basis. According to the document, the selected bidder shall also manage the six sericulture or cocoon production centres (CPCs) to increase cocoon production for the factory supply and support farmers. With the aim of increasing agricultural exports, NAEB said, the Government invested in the sericulture sector to that end, while also creating employment. It indicated that sericulture experts rate Rwanda as one of the best countries with the opportunity to produce the best quality of raw silk due to favourable natural conditions for cocoon production. The New Times understands that a lack of investors to manage the sector effectively, and ensure a sustainable and profitable market for farmers, is disadvantageous to farmers. “We are selling our silk cocoons at a giveaway price. Sometimes a farmer gets about Rwf10,000 for 10 kilogrammes of cocoons, yet we used to sell the same quantity for like Rwf25,000,” Mariana Numukobwa, a sericulture farmer from Gatsibo District told The New Times, pointing out that lack of technical and financial support has discouraged farmers. As per the proposal, the selected bidder shall also support farmers to produce more and quality cocoons, and buy their produce. Current sericulture sector status, investment Sericulture is relatively a young industry in Rwanda and requires continuous support to sustain and make the sector economically meaningful, as per NAEB. Area under production is 2,872 ha with 19 million productive mulberry trees, distributed among 3,693 individual farmers and 18 active cooperatives, it indicated. The sector is dominated by smallholder farmers with small rearing houses (with 6m×5m). It also has six sericulture centres (Karongi, Nyanza, Gatsibo, Rushashi, Mulindi and Rusizi) to support farmers with the effective extension services and in rearing activities. The highest annual fresh cocoon production was 39.4 tonnes (in 2019-2020), up from 3.3 tonnes in 2011/2012, data from NAEB show. Currently, Cocoons Production Centres (CPCs) have 29.8 ha of land that shall be used by the investor for cocoon production. Obligation of the successful bidder (investor) Under the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model, the obligations of the investor include working with farmers under the out-growers model to produce cocoons, through supporting them with technical know-how and (silkworm) rearing equipment to increase cocoon production capacity. They also have to support farmers in the extension services to ensure that they are producing cocoons that meet investor’s requirements, and which guarantee that the production targets set at the silk factory level can be achieved. Again, they are required to buy all the cocoons produced by the farmers, and ensure the management of the fresh cocoon supply chain from farmers to the factory. They also have to produce a minimum of 70 tonnes of cocoons per year, and demonstrate how to maximise the full factory capacity to meet the production and export targets of the sericulture sector. Obligation of NAEB In line with its mandate of oversight of the sericulture sector and as the agri-exports regulator, NAEB shall have the responsibility to facilitate the process of setting the farmgate price of the fresh cocoons, in collaboration with the investor and farmers. According to NAEB's report for the fiscal year 2020/2021, Rwanda exported 17,042 kilogrammes (Kgs) of silk products which generated over $254,000 (about Rwf269 million). The exported silk products included 9,000 Kgs of dried cocoons to Vietnam, 7,448 Kgs of silk sheets to China, and 593 Kgs of raw silk to Italy.