In the Rwandan traditional culture, flowers were never of significance as they are becoming today, as gifting cows was the norm then.
With globalization however, the culture of giving and decorating with flowers today is being adopted.
François-Xavier Nziyonsenga, who has been growing and exporting flowers for four years now, wants to change the narrative, by introducing a new culture of growing, handling, and decorating with flowers.
“I’m trying to change the narrative in a culture which doesn’t traditionally give value to flowers. In our tradition, flowers were just any weed growing around in the wild. Nowadays, with globalization, we are becoming aware of the importance of these flowers. But, we haven’t yet learned how to handle and use them properly,” he said.
The idea was sparked five years ago, when he had just returned from Canada, where he had lived for over four decades. He passed by a beautifully decorated wedding venue in Kicukiro but what he saw the following day shocked him.
“I was living in Kicukiro, I passed by a wedding venue that had beautiful roses decorated, only to find the roses scattered on the road side the following day.
What I perceived that day is that the flowers didn’t mean anything to them after the party and it showed that they didn’t understand the artefact that they were using. I then realised that we can introduce flowers into today’s Rwanda and explain to people what flowers are, and how people can use them.
We can start our culture of flowers, different from other cultures. We can innovate and present to the world our new, unique, Rwandan culture of flowers,” he says.
Nziyonsenga is not a professional botanist, but rather a product developer, who had been developing various products out of reeds growing wild in marshlands in Canada.
As a researcher, he says, his question whenever he sees flowers is how to magnify and give them more value. For instance, in addition to their beauty, flowers, to him, have a more profound and positive impact on our health, which means that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life.
Francois Nziyonsenga wants to introduce a new floral culture in Rwanda
“Flowers are beautiful but they can also be put to many other uses that we should discover. When I arrived here, and I saw the white Arums in the marshlands, being used for decoration but also filtering dirty water, I wondered why we only had white Arums at the market place, and why we couldn’t have other colours for various ornamental purposes”.
He immediately introduced multi-colored Callas in Rwanda, as a complement to white Arums, of the same family.
So besides growing Callas and other types of foreign flowers, his firm NINAF Ltd produces interior decoration with many local flowers, dried, dyed, and scented; such as the dried papyrus from the Nyabarongo valley.
In addition, he also makes and sells potpourri (sachets of a mixture of dried, naturally fragrant plant material, used to provide a gentle natural scent) made of his different wild and cultivated harvests.
“Taking into account that we don’t have a long tradition of growing flowers, maybe we can systematically start growing our flowers or domesticating them and learn how to add value to what we have,” he emphasized.
He added that although it is a good initiative to export flowers that meet international standards, perhaps we should also be focusing on initiating and developing standards for our local and regional markets as well.
“My self-imparted mission is to educate Rwandans that we have beautiful flowers that we can domesticate and grow professionally, flowers that suit our local needs first; and then share them with the entire world. We need to train Rwandan professional growers, give a certain value to our flowers; and then, develop exports,” he said.
Nziyonsenga recently purchased a plot of land on the shores of Lake Burera, where he intends to build a resort exclusively for Rwandan senior citizens as well as foreign retirees. At the resort, he plans to set up a floral garden that he hopes will be able to benefit the elderly both physically and psychologically.
“There is a new world trend now that some flowers are edible and healthy. These are the kinds of flowers that we will be growing at the resort. The senior citizens will be physically working on the farm growing the speciality.
Very few Rwandans might be inclined to join my project because, traditionally, they do not understand gardening of flowers; and so my target clientele will be, first, senior citizens from abroad because they are the ones who know the value of this. Hopefully then, Rwandans will be indirectly inspired and encouraged to join,” he explained.
He also hopes to soon introduce a new school in Rwanda, where with the help of Japanese flower experts, the art of IKEBANA (a centuries old form of Japanese flower arrangement), will be taught.
At over 70 years of age, with new projects, Nziyonsenga says one of his challenges is that he cannot be granted a loan in the bank; and has since resorted to using a portion of his pension to implement his projects.
His major challenge however, is lacking a team of passionate individuals to execute his projects with.