NIRDA challenged to revamp industrial sector

The national Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA) has been challenged to transform research into sustainable commercial projects if it wants to be relevant.
Dr Nduwayezu (left) signs a handover report as NIRDA’s new boss Mungarulire looks on. (Ben Gasore)
Dr Nduwayezu (left) signs a handover report as NIRDA’s new boss Mungarulire looks on. (Ben Gasore)

The nationalIndustrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA) has been challenged to transform research into sustainable commercial projects if it wants to be relevant.

“Our industries produce only 15 per cent of the country’s needs, which creates a huge trade imbalance. Therefore NIRDA should play a big role in transforming Rwanda’s industrial sector; and produce at least 20 per cent of the local goods by 2020,” the Minister for Trade and Industry, Francois Kanimba, said.

Kanimba was speaking at a ceremony to welcome the new NIRDA director general, Joseph Mungarulire.

Mungarulire  replaced Jean Baptiste Nduwayezu, who had been the acting boss of the agency since May.

Nduwayezu was also the boss of the Institute of Scientific and Technological Research (IRST) before it was restructured and transformed into NIRDA this year.

The minister also urged the agency to do more research, especially on improving the quality of goods produced by Rwandan industries to increase the country’s exports.

“For research to stand out in the market, it should be used to improve locally-produced goods or help make new products,” he said.

One of the purposes for the formation of the NIRDA was to produce an alternative source of fuel locally to guard Rwanda against international oil price fluctuations or turbulence in the global economy.

The agency is the lead body in industrial research and development.

IRST was producing bio-diesel on a pilot phase until last year when it faced challenges and suspended production, which hopefully will resume as NIRDA has wider mandate compared to its predecessor. Biofuels are made from oil producing seeds like jatropha, neem, Moringa and palm tree seeds.

According to an earlier roadmap drawn by IRST, Rwanda was expected to become a net bio-diesel producer by 2025, replacing almost all its fossil diesel imports with bio-fuels, saving the country $300m in fossil diesel imports per year.

Rwanda imports over 160 million litres of diesel per annum. A litre of bio-diesel cost Rwf890 in 2012 compared to Rwf1,000 for that of fossil diesel. Disiel costs Rwf960 a litre presently.

The IRST pilot project had the capacity to produce 2,000 litres of bio-diesel per day.

However, the project that was launched in 2007 has stalled due to lack of a renewable energy policy. This means that NIRDA cannot attract private investors or run fully-fledged commercial entities as per its mandate.

Speaking after assuming office, Mungarulire said he will meet oil-seed farmers, investors and other stakeholders as the agency plans to resume bio-diesel production.

“We need to know if we have enough raw materials and how we can ensure sustainable bio-diesel production,” he said.

Who is Mungarulire

Mungarulire has a PhD in Chemistry. He has for the past 18 years been working at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was part of the team under the university’s research and development unit in the science and technology education department, from where he came to head NIRDA.

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