Rwanda seeks to greatly reduce imports by supporting and reviving different sectors of the economy to produce locally many of the products that are presently being imported. Under the domestic market recapturing strategy, the country seeks to create import substitution industries that will produce some of the goods that are currently being imported to help reduce the widening trade imbalance and boost Rwanda’s forex reserves, among others.
This strategy is expected to be driven by community processing centres (CPCs) under National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA). According to Dr George Nyombaire, the head of research and development coordination at NIRDA, the agency is currently working on a project, where small and model herbal medicine processing units will be set up across the country to develop traditional herbal medicines for industrial production. The initiative will also seek to improve quality and make the sector lucrative and competitive, Nyombaire added.
“The plan seeks to enhance the production process of traditional medicine by embracing modern and standardised techniques which will increase competitiveness of herbal medicine products,” Nyombaire explained.
The official added that government would provide herbalists with technical skills on products development for industrial production, which he said will also help to improve quality along the value chain.
The initiative on the development of phytomedicine (herbal) products in Rwanda is supported by €600,000 (about Rwf630 million) funding from Belgium and is being implemented by NIRDA, University of Rwanda researchers and the health ministry under a partnership deal, according to officials it is expected to end in 2020.
In the footsteps of China, India to produce for global market
Already, NIRDA has started training registered herbalists to sharpen the production. The agency recently trained 82 traditional herbal medicine producers. Figures show that there are 3,000 registered herbalists across the country, and an estimated 14,000 unregistered practitioners.
“The processing units will be equipped to be able to make herbal medicines that meet standards, have right packaging, branding and labels, like what is produced by China, South Korea and India,” Nyombaire told Business Times in an interview. He added that it will also have clear instructions for patients on dosage and use, as well as indicate the ingredients and expiry date.
“This will support the development of the health sector and also make the sector more lucrative,” he said.
Improving production processes of herbal medicines to global standards and production of organic fertilisers are some of the priority projects that NIRDA had planned to undertake when it was instituted over two years ago.
It should be noted that the law that operationalised NIRDA gives the agency the mandate to create a company that can operate at an industrial level. Therefore, the processing centres operate under this mandate.
Prof Michel Frederich from University of Liege in Belgium, which supports the project, said developing the sector of traditional healers will create many jobs along the supply chain. The project known in French as Optimalisation de la pharmacopee traditionnelle Rwandaise, loosely translated as Optimisation of the traditional Rwandan pharmacopoeia, which is about use of traditional medicines by using an official publication containing a list of traditional medicinal drugs, their side effects and directions for use.
“We initiated the project with University of Rwanda last year to improve the quality of traditional plant medicines. We trained three people at NIRDA, two from University Rwanda and one social scientist.
“We also provide information to PhD students on traditional medicine, and the current training of traditional herbalists is part of the €600,000 project,” he explained. He was speaking after the recent training of herbalists in Kigali.
Prof Frederich said the third part of the project will help prepare and improve traditional medicine from plants ensuring quality in the processing, regulating dosage, standardising the production process, and supporting people to commercialise the medical plants and herbal medicine.
These processes, he added, will help create employment opportunities in the sector, noting that it is better to produce herbal medicines locally instead of depending on imported ones. Industrial development is one of the key components of the second Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS II), as government targets creation of 200,000 off-farm jobs for the youth annualy.
Protecting endangered medicinal plants
NIRDA’s Nyombaire said government is promoting growing and preservation of endangered medicinal plants. He added that it will soon allocate land in different districts for planting endangered medicinal plants.
“Besides protecting endangered medicinal plants and adopting industrial production phytomedicine products, we will take traditional healers for study tours in other countries with developed traditional healing to learn from best practices. We want herbal medicine be part of Made–in-Rwanda products targeted for the export market,” he said.
However, AGA Rwanda Network, an association of herbalists, says it needs Rwf416 million for a project aimed at restoring endangered medicinal plants in the country. The group says over 700 medicinal plant species are in eminent danger of extinction.
Daniel Gafaranga, the president of the network, told Business Times that the group pledged support to plant and save medicinal herbs. He urged herbalists to preserve all their medicinal plants protect them from extinction, especially with global warming and climate change that is affecting both flora and fauna.
Edmond Semana, the Ministry of Health medicine evaluation and registration officer, said a law regulating traditional herbalists is being reviewed after coming from law commission.
Semana said the law was recently submitted to the Cabinet and will soon be presented to Parliament.
“This is the first time we are making such a law in Rwanda, which will also establish the National Traditional Healers’ Council,” he said, adding that it will also seek to boost skills development for herbal medicine processors.