The first phase of the Horti-Export project contributed significantly to Rwanda’s horticultural export growth by expanding its market base, and its second phase will further increase such gains, sector actors have indicated. They made the observations on Thursday, March 2, in Kigali, during the launch of the Horticulture Export Development project (Horti-Export) Phase 2, and the closure of its first phase by IDH Rwanda. Its implementation is led by IDH – an organisation that works with businesses, financiers, governments, and civil society to realise sustainable trade in global value chains. This project phase runs for 19 months, from December 1, 2022, through June 30, 2024, and like the first one, it is funded, to a tune of €1 million (about Rwf1.1 billion), by the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ)’s Special Initiative Decent Work for a Just Transition. The Horti–Export project aims to enhance the commercialisation of Rwanda's horticulture sector by supporting small and medium enterprises (SMEs), leading to export growth, and through this, the creation of employment opportunities, improved working conditions of employees and farm workers, and increased smallholder farmer income. According to information from IDH, the second phase of the project is estimated to create 650 new jobs along the horticultural value chain, 50 per cent of which are for women, and 20 per cent for youth. ALSO READ: We support Rwanda to unlock its horticulture potential - IDH official It is expected to increase horticulture export volume to 50 tonnes per week, by beneficiary small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Other expected project impacts are including 2,500 additional smallholder farmers into the supply chains of selected SMEs, as well as a 50 per cent increase in the annual income of 2,000 smallholder farmers. Building on the achievements made under the first phase, Horti-Export phase two plans to secure 10 long-term and two short-term off-take deals in premium markets including Africa, Asia, European Union, and the Middle East. Also, it seeks to establish six cooperatives with the capacity to supply to the selected horticulture SMEs. Global Director at IDH, Kebba Colley, said that in phase 2, the focus will be on being able to stabilise the operations including production, indicating that those operations of the companies must be sustainable. He pointed out that IDH helped mobilise premium buyers from Europe – including France, UK, and Belgium – to buy Rwandan horticultural products, which led to growing the exported quantities that were very limited as they were estimated at about 10 tonnes per week. “Right now, what needs to happen, specifically, is to stabilise production. This means ensuring products comply with the specifications and specific requirements of retailers and trading companies. That is the first important thing, he said, underscoring the focus of phase 2 of the project and the need to have quality assurance, maintain supply stability, and be able to sell products at competitive prices. Sandrine Urujeni, Chief Operations Officer at the National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB), said that the interventions of the project were very important to Rwanda’s horticulture exports sector, which was relatively new – as it started getting attention seven years ago – through capacity building for SMEs, certification among other supports. Most importantly, she said, the project greatly contributed to market linkages, helping Rwanda’s horticulture exporters to get more foreign buyers. “Most of the buyers we have today, have been introduced by IDH,” she said, urging IDH to keep exploring its capacity, experience, and expertise in market linkages. Emmanuel Harelimana, MD of Garden Fresh --one of the beneficiaries of the initiative -- said that the firm had some challenges, especially in breaking the cold chain. In horticulture, you have to make sure you produce from the farm and keep the product intact, then you take it to the client when it is still fresh,” he said, adding that the IDH helped address that issue through cold trucks to help safely move the product from the farm to the airport. “When we joined the project, we had a global G.A.P [certificate that demonstrated commitment to advancing good agricultural practices] only for one firm. But now we have a global GAP for five farms. So, now we are able to have diversified farms whereby we can diversify trade with different products,” he said. Achievements of Horti-Export phase 1 Among other results, Horti-Export phase I created 488 permanent jobs, consisting of about 57 per cent for women and about 44 per cent for the youth, show figures from IDH. Overall, it established 18 horticultural deals and led to the exportation of 43.3 tonnes of horticulture products from Rwanda per week. It also reached 3,013 farmers and achieved a 46 per cent increase in farmers’ incomes. Helge Sato, Head of Component, Invest, and SME Promotion, under the Special Initiative Decent Work for a Just Transition at GIZ, said that under the auspices of the project phase 1, production of high-quality horticulture produce went up, and access by the Rwandan exporters to premium buyers in the UK, the European Union and the Middle East is getting increased. He promised successful partnerships with stakeholders in the horticulture industry, during the implementation of the second phase of the project, for greater benefits. Meanwhile, Rwanda's annual horticultural (vegetables, fruits, and flowers) exports generated more than $53.9 million in 2022, which is almost a 64.7 per cent increase compared to over $32.7 million in 2021, as per data from NAEB, while the target is to get $130 million from such exports in 2024.