Korean firm HEworks Ltd to revitalise Rwanda silk exports

The National Agriculture Export Development Board (NAEB) has embraced the vision of Korean company, Global Investment and Distribution, that is seeking to revitalise silk sector in the country.
NAEB workers showcase a sample of silk yarn during an expo. Top right is a Rwandan flag design made from silk cocoons. (Photo/Emanuel Ntirenganya)
NAEB workers showcase a sample of silk yarn during an expo. Top right is a Rwandan flag design made from silk cocoons. (Photo/Emanuel Ntirenganya)

The National Agriculture Export Development Board (NAEB) has embraced the vision of  Korean company, Global Investment and Distribution, that is seeking to revitalise silk sector in the country.

The Koreans hope to generate about $50 million in silk exports per year by 2020 through their franchise, HEWorks Rwanda Silk Ltd.


HeWorks president and chief executive Barnabas Heechoon Yang said he will make a two-pronged investment approach of $10 million, of which $5 million will be injected in silk farming development and farmers’ capacity building; and another $5 million to be spent on a silk processing factory in Rwanda.


The factory will be constructed at Kigali Special Economic Zone (KSEZ).


The project, Yang noted, targets silk farming on 10,000 hectares, to benefit 5,000 farmers countrywide.

Yang was speaking to The New Times from Kigali last week.

Last year, the firm signed a memorandum of understanding with NAEB to invigorate Rwanda’s silk sector.

According to information from Rwanda Development Board (RDB), preliminary studies and tests indicate that the country could be very well suited for the production of silk.

Currently, there are 40 pilot sericulture cooperatives distributed countrywide.

The Government planned to extend mulberry cultivation from 350 hectares in 2013 to 10,000 hectares by 2017, information from RDB shows.

But the move has been sluggish as farmers did not have required skills to make sustainable silk produce, and lack of an investor to add value to the produce.

Most of the raw materials used within the textile industry come from outside the country.

Silk is used in textile to produce smooth quality clothes which are often worn at important occasions such as meetings and wedding ceremonies.

New plans

Under the new initiative, the factory will be buying all the cocoons from sericulture farmers and process them into silk yarn for export to countries such as India, China, Japan, Korea, Italy, and European continent.

“Before, the government had to buy cocoons from farmers because there was no investor. But the government doesn’t have the market. So, it (cocoon produce) would be kept in stores because there is no factory to make silk yarn,” Yang said.

A farmer gets 2,100 per a kilogramme of cocoons, and can harvest 750 kilogrammes per hectare per year.

Those kilogrammes can produce about 100 kilogrammes of silk yarn, generating $5,000 through exports per year, as a kilogramme of silk yarn is $50.

Based on such calculations, 10,000 hectares can generate $50 million in yarn exports per year, according to Yang. 

“The target is to produce locally-made silk clothes,” Yang said, adding that his goal is to set up six garment factories in different provinces of the country in line with the Made-in-Rwanda initiative.

Keewook Sohn, the managing director of HEWorks Rwanda Silk Ltd, said Heechoon Yang assessed many sectors in Africa but he chose to invest in sericulture (silk farming) because he realised it was a more promising sector.

He said Rwanda has a national sericulture centre in Mulindi, Gasabo District, which produces silkworm eggs, and the government was committed to support the silk development initiative.

Processing silk yarn

The factory will need minimum 500 tonnes of cocoons to start large scale production.

The small-scale factory will start in April 2018 because of few cocoons from the farmers.

The factory, Yang said, will start full silk yarn production once the construction of factory facility is completed and the company has set up the machinery, by 2019.

The facility will be built by the Government.

Jean Marie Vianney Munyaneza, the diversification and product development manager at NAEB, told The New Times that infrastructures will be completed after one year.

“The Government has already bought a silk reeling machine, and will help the investor get required silk cocoons,” he said.

Silk worms eat mulberry leaves and they produce cocoons. One cocoon has an over one-kilometre-long thread. 

Supporting farmers to produce more

For one mulberry tree, Yang said, the company will give Rwf15 to a farmer in incentive.  About 13,000 mulberry trees can be grown on one hectare.

Florence Mutembayire started silk farming in 2014 in Murambi Sector, Gatsibo District. The mother of six said that sericulture helped her meet family needs including feeding and healthcare.

“On a farmland where I used to harvest less than one sack of beans, I get over twice the revenue from such beans when I get paid for silk cocoons,” she said. “I plan to grow silk (mulberry) on three fields because that is a profitable plant.”

Fidel Hategekimana Kakonge, president of Musereko cooperative, engaged in silk farming in Gatsibo District, said that mulberry cultivation is beneficial as it allows farmers to harvest other crops such as soya and beans, through intercropping on the same land.

The 49-year-old farmer said he has built a house worth about Rwf2 million from silk cocoon sales.

However, he said, farmers face challenges related to lack of skills to take care of silkworms in case they  are attacked by diseases, or ability to maximise mulberry yield.

Yang said he has experts who will be training farmers in mulberry cultivation and silkworm rearing to achieve intended targets.

The farmers engaged in mulberry cultivation are estimated at 3,000, while those practicing cocoon production are about 1,500.

Last year, about 10 tonnes of silk cocoons were produced in Rwanda, according to NAEB.

Yang said the strong point of the country in regards to sericulture is that “Rwanda is the number one country with very cool weather, very cool rain, and compared to temperate [climate] countries like China, Korea, or Japan, which can harvest mulberry leaves only twice a year, while in Rwanda, the harvest is between six to nine times per year thanks to relatively good weather.”

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