NAEB upgrades packing house to ensure safety of horticulture exports

Workers engage in sorting, grading and packing French beans at the horticulture packing house at National Agricultural Export Development Board. / Photo: Courtesy.

National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB) has unveiled its newly upgraded packing house that will help the quality and safety of Rwandan produce to meet international market requirements.

The event was officiated by the CEO of NAEB, Amb. Willian Bill Kayonga and Ton Negenman, First Secretary at the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Rwanda.

 

A packing house is a facility where fresh horticulture produce such as fruits and vegetables, are received, sorted and packed before being taken to the market.

 

The facility is currently handling 50 to 100 tonnes of fruits and vegetables per week for export purposes.

 

Negenman said that it enables the private sector and a number of exporting companies to get their produce on international markets.

“At this moment, exporters making use of this packing house are exporting French beans, avocadoes, and chili. You can see them in the packing house, and they are ending up in supermarkets in The Netherlands, they are procured by Dutch consumers,” he said.

NAEB Horticulture packing house was initially established in 2017 with the $500,000 (about Rwf460 million) support of a World Bank project to facilitate and support the horticulture sector and preparing it for export opportunities.

From August to December 2019, the facility was upgraded with the €300,000 (about Rwf305 million) grant from HortInvest, a project funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which promotes horticulture value chain development in Rwanda.

The upgrade increased its capacity from three cold rooms to four and enhanced its cooling efficiency and handling capacity up from 516 m3 to 700 m3.

It is already contributing tremendously to the agricultural export volumes and between 45-50 percent of the fresh produce exported is packed there.

It is the only Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) certified public packing house for handling fresh fruits and vegetables in Rwanda.

HACCP is a management system in which food safety is addressed through the analysis and control of biological, chemical, and physical hazards. HACCP certification demonstrates to consumers that food being produced or traded meets safety standards.

“It is really to provide an environment for this food that is being packed for export, and as fresh food can be able to reach the market still fresh and not contaminated,” said NAEB’s CEO, Kayonga.

Impact on horticulture exports

Vianney Kabera, Chairperson of Horticulture Exporters Association of Rwanda said that before the facility was put into use, “most of the exporters were exporting from their own houses, offices, under the tree shades, and it was very alarming.”

“We would harvest the produce and would have to export it that very day. We had no cooling systems in place, we had no tables where we would work from, and we had no protective gears. So, everything was in a shamble,” he said.

“This facility has given us quite a number of opportunities in the market, especially that even our clients abroad have got the total confidence that they are buying our produce without quality concerns,” he said.

Kabera said that the facility along with other factors including logistics, cargo flights mainly by RwandAir contributed to the growth of Rwanda’s horticultural exports.

“We used to collect little produce because we did not have the means to take care of it. But, when we got where to keep it safely for up to three days, the farmers and the produce they generate increased, which also drove up our exports.

“We started when we were three exporters, but now we are 30 exporters. We used to export 10 tonnes per week, but we are now exporting up to 100 tonnes,’ he said.

Kabera said that exports still have some challenges they are facing.

“As the number of exporters are increasing, we have quite a number of workers that we employ on a daily basis. So, you find that when they are outside waiting for shifts, the space that is there is not enough. We still need more space for them to work from.

“These temporary employees have no resting place where they can wait from to join the next shift,” he expressed.

Meanwhile, NAEB’s Kayonga said that the current packing house is supposed to perform a function of a shared facility especially to help companies grow.

But, he indicated that two more facilities are set to be set up next year, while another will be built a year after in order to accommodate the growing fresh produce for export market.

“Through one of the programmes of HortInvest, Garden Fresh, ProxiFresh, and hopefully SunFresh in the future, should be able to build their own pack houses. And ensure that we have extra space for the young exporting companies that are every day requesting for space.

The companies, he said, will get 50 percent of the investment covered by The Netherlands through HortInvest.

Rwanda’s horticulture export revenues increased from more than $23.2 million in 2017/2018 to more than $27.1 million in 2018/2019, which represents a growth of 17 percent, according to statistics from NAEB.

As per the same figures, exports volumes went up from slightly over 30,000 tonnes to over 37,3000 tonnes in the same period.

entirenganya@newtimesrwanda.com

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