The first planting season for Unilever tea project was launched yesterday in Kibeho and Munini sectors in Nyaruguru District.
Unilever is one of the world’s leading suppliers of food, home and personal care products with sales in over 190 countries and is arguably the world’s largest tea marketing company with leading brands.
The development comes more than a year after Government signed a multimillion agreement with Unilever to construct a tea processing factory and develop two large-scale tea sites in the district.
In May 2016, Unilever signed an agreement with the government to invest some $30 million (about Rwf25 billion)over the next four years in developing two large-scale sites in the sectors of Kibeho and Munini as well as a processing factory.
Development started earlier this year with the first planting in October with 2.5 million tea plants in nurseries for the planned expansion.
When fully operational, around 3500 hectares of smallholder tea will be planted, eventually creating about 1000 jobs at the two sites.
Yesterday’s event marked the official launch of Unilever’s substantive investment into Rwanda’s tea sector.
According to the National Agriculture Export Board (NAEB), the new plantation project will increase the production of tea and help burgeon Rwanda tea on the international market.
Agriculture Minister Dr Gerardine Mukeshimana, speaking to thousands of tea farmers and residents at the launch, urged them to take advantage of the investment to improve their livelihoods.
“The conducive business environment in our country has attracted investors in various sectors with confidence. You should make use of the opportunities around you and grow your incomes,” she advised.
“You should be the leading drinkers of the tea you produce. Your tea shouldn’t reach abroad before you have got your share.”
Paul Polman, Unilever CEO, shared his experience in prosperity of projects, saying, “When you want to go faster, you go alone but when you want to go far, go together.”
He thanked government institutions like Rwanda Development Board for making business easily possible and promised that the tea project is a further demonstration of “Unilever’s commitment to a long-term sustainable business model that creates value and shared prosperity.”
“Our investment in Rwanda’s tea industry will bring our great tea brands together with smallholder farmers who will benefit from a secure route to markets and sustainable livelihoods for many years to come,” he added.
To undertake the project, Unilever expropriated 228 households who were resettled by the district and Unilever in modern houses with electricity and water in a village which residents have nicknamed “The New Jerusalem.”
Modeste Musirikare, one of the expropriated residents reflected on the poor housing and extreme poverty that had befallen his family.
Today he lives with his family in one of the new houses and is also among the 600 residents who got jobs on the tea plantation.
Nyaruguru District has 5,337 hectares of tea, producing 3,900 tonnes a year. Up to 4,231 hectares are run by Unilever of which 813 will be for a Unilever factory that is yet to be constructed.
The Rwandan government targets to increase tea exports from 25,500 tonnes in 2016 to 45,000 tonnes in 2024, according to figures presented to parliament recently by Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente.
About 70 per cent of the 10 kilotonnes of tea exported each year by Unilever Tea Rwanda is expected to come from smallholder farmers in the future.