A new initiative aimed at boosting horticulture production, quality and exports was unveiled about year ago by the National Agricultural Export Board (NAEB) and sector stakeholders.
The Rwanda Horticulture Working Group sought to attract more private investments into the industry, and stimulate dialogue among stakeholders. The group was also expected to provide a platform to promote public-private sector partnerships to help expand the country’s horticulture sector.
To support such initiatives, the government put in place a horticulture development policy and strategy.
With almost a year in existence, has the Rwanda Horticulture Working Group had any contribution to the sector? Many industry players say though the platform is “a step in the right direction”, more needs to be done to achieve growth targets.
The government seeks to increase horticulture exports tenfold, from $11 million in 2013 to $120 million in the next two years. The sector fetched $5.8 million during the last fiscal year, a decline from $6.6 million the previous year.
The horticulture sector, especially flower growing, is considered as a “quick win” by government, providing the country huge opportunities to enhance export volumes and revenues, as well as help diversify the export base.
Chantal Uwajeneza, a horticulture specialist, said there must be a clear marketing strategy to ensure that what is produced is sold. This requires strong public-private sector partnerships, particularly investment in value addition initiatives.
“We are currently exporting fresh horticulture produce to Europe and other markets around the world, I believe we should start thinking about agro processing as a strategy to enhance the value of our exports,” she said.
She added that there should be deliberate efforts to link local farmers with the manufacturers, arguing this will boost quality and farmers’ earnings.
Wilhelmine Bora, the Professional Horticulture Farmers Association in Rwanda chairperson, said there is need to set up right infrastructure, including cold chain facilities, as well as market information if this target is to be realised.
Dieudonné Twahirwa, a specialist in chilli farming based in Bugesera District, called for more investment in extension staff, saying this will help improve agronomical practices.
The expert believes Rwanda is well positioned to serve growing local, regional and global demand for horticulture products.
“With the entry of new investors, the number of Rwandan products reaching diverse markets has grown over the years.
“However, to successfully execute the strategy and realise our competitive advantage, prospective investors in the sector will need to build strong relationships with relevant institutions and banks,” Twahirwa noted.
It is also important that horticulture companies and farmers comply with compulsory certification standards to be able to enter new markets.
More initiatives to improve the sector
There are only four horticulture collection centres across the country, and one cold room at Kigali International Airport. NAEB said it is currently trying to transform a warehouse at its head offices into a horticulture pack-house, where exporters can sort and package produce before it is exported.
The agency plans to build a modern horticulture centre at Mulindi in Gasabo District to help small-scale farmers acquire skills to be able to process and package fresh fruits and vegetables.
According to NAEB, production at Gishari Flower Park project in Rwamagana District is in progress. Government through the ministry of agriculture and animal resources has been sending Rwandan agronomists to Israel for training in modern farming practices and business management.
The agronomists are expected to play a pivotal role in developing the country’s horticulture industry.
Meanwhile, NAEB started mapping and profiling land that is suitable for horticulture, which will be availed investors next year, according to officials. The target is to have at least 2,000 hectares dedicated to export-oriented production by 2018.
The sector, however, still faces a number of challenges that are affecting its productivity. These include lack of cold chain facilities; limited access to markets and finance.
Whatever efforts are being put in place by NAEB and stakeholders, it is essential to attract more investors to make the sector more reliable, robust, and sustainable. And, almost 12 months since the Rwanda Horticulture Working Group was launched, little seems to have changed, calling for concerted efforts to drive growth and attract more investors.