Horticulture is one of the strategic areas that Rwanda is banking on as it seeks to expand its agriculture export base through diversification, and be able to generate $1 billion (over Rwf1 trillion) in annual foreign agricultural revenues by 2024. This is more than double about $445 million it registered in the last fiscal year. To that end, the country targets to raise its horticulture (fruits, vegetables and flowers) export earnings from the current over $28.79 million in the fiscal year 2020-2021 to $130 million exports by 2024 (or a contribution of 13 per cent of the total projected agricultural export revenues), according to data from the National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB). The New Times’ Emmanuel Ntirenganya had an interview with Kebba Colley, Director of Inclusive Business Development at IDH about the organisation’s work in Rwanda, with a focus on the country’s horticulture sector and its potential. IDH, The Sustainable Trade Initiative, is an organisation (Foundation) that works with businesses, financiers, governments and civil society to realise sustainable trade in global value chains. Here are the excerpts: Briefly, what does IDH’s work in Rwanda entail? IDH was created in 2008 by the Government of The Netherlands, and today, it is financed by several Governments in Europe among others, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Denmark. Since 2017, we have been working on [agriculture] value chain development in Rwanda. This intervention is based on access to affordable finance, business development and technical support, and access to the market. Specifically in Rwanda, we have been working with seven Rwandan horticulture exporters who are producing anything from avocado, passion fruits, chilli and [French] beans. This is intended to increase exports and find buyers in the European market (premium buyers) including the UK, The Netherlands, France and most recently, Dubai and Qatar. Our work with the Rwandan exporters has been focused on about three, four areas. The first one is to look at the operations of the company to make sure that we support the companies with our specialists to build the capabilities of the Rwandan exporters to be able to produce the right product which the market is looking for, with the quality and also with the certification. Also, we have been supporting the country’s horticulture sector growth through increasing agriculture mechanisation including irrigation to ensure stable production and supply even during dry season, and inputs such as fertilisers and chemicals that are needed to produce the crop, as well as packaging. What investments have you made into Rwanda’s horticulture sector, and what impact have they had so far? The interventions are made through co-financing, whereby the organisation offers an exporter a grant amounting to 50 per cent of the investment [they need to make for a given purpose], then the exporter also covers 50 per cent. This is done through the project called HortInvest. On the investment side, through this project, we have invested about $5 million [over Rwf5 billion] together with companies in Rwanda in about the last four years. And this has helped increase the [horticulture] export of [horticulture] products from Rwanda 300 per cent. Also, we help Rwandan exporters to get buyers in Europe by identifying them and linking them, as well as increase Rwanda’s brand recognition abroad. Rwanda produces a brand, which means produce in Rwanda is a Rwanda product. So, we develop marketing training, documentation and marketing materials that are given to different markets in Europe so they know that Rwanda has products in the horticulture sector. How do you see the potential of Rwanda’s horticulture sector, given the market opportunities, and even the production side? Big, big, big. Rwandan exporters and companies get a lot of support from the Government. And that is very important for companies to get the support they need from their Government. That is one. Two, the Rwandan exporters are very focused and they are driven by success, they want to succeed in their businesses. And therefore, if you have people like that who get support from Government institutions, and they work with IDH which facilitates and supports them, their potential is big because it is not only export to Europe, they also have to think about producing for the local market. So, if you have the Kigali Wholesale Market which will be built sometime in the coming years, that is a good market for Rwandan exporters to also supply. And then they can supply to (DR) Congo, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania, etc. High air freight charges are one of the major concerns for horticulture exporters, with some being unable to tap into some available markets as they could not get profit, as a result. Anything being done to address the issue? The reality is airfreight [transport] is expensive everywhere because of this oil crisis that we’re going through. What is happening now, everything is going by plane... What we are doing to reduce the cost for exporters is to try other alternatives, which is the sea fleet. The Netherlands Embassy is working with IDH to do this pilot [to see whether shipment by sea can help reduce the transport costs]. So, we are doing a new test with a company from The Netherlands, plus companies in Rwanda to see if we can limit [air] cargo and transport by sea. Then one goes to Mombasa, another goes to Dubai, another goes to The Netherlands. It’s cheaper if you go by sea; and that’s why we are doing a pilot now. The pilot is to show if you export fresh produce from Rwanda by sea, go by road (truck) to Mombasa [port in Kenya], and then by sea shipment to Europe [what does that cost?]. We will only know by the end of the year what it costs.