Rwanda forecasts US$300m earnings annually from horticultural exports, especially cut flowers, fruits and vegetables in five years.
This was revealed by Epimaque Nsanzabaganwa, the head of the Horticulture Division at the National Agricultural Export Board (NAEB) in an interview with The New Times.
According to Nsanzabaganwa, horticulture accounted for US$3m of the country’s exports last year, implying that more efforts are needed to realise the target.
“Horticulture faces many challenges, especially lack of skilled labour, access to markets abroad and investment,” he said.
Nsanzabaganwa added that on the international market, flowers are mainly sold through auctions and supplies to large supermarkets, pointing out that Rwanda is incapable of penetrating either market at present.
He blames this on an unreliable and steady supply of flowers from local farmers, yet it is one of the conditions a country is supposed to fulfil before it exports to the auctioning market.
According to Nsanzabaganwa, Western supermarkets also have specific varieties they demand, which in most cases are exotic. This requires Rwanda to always import such seedlings and supply them to farmers. Unfortunately, those supplying the seedlings hold intellectual property rights as the sole suppliers.
When approached for comment, some florists complained of a limited market, both locally and abroad.
“We supply our flowers only on demand. Yet, the demand peaks in specific seasons, especially during the Genocide commemoration. On other days, we risk seeing our flowers wither in their vases,” notes Faustin Kabeza, a member of a florist cooperative in Mulindi, Gicumbi District.
“We request the government to help us access the local market by putting up a flower market, because we understand that some (clients) are forced to buy artificial ones when they are in a hurry”.
Joyous Kubana, a decorator, singles out the extra care needed to grow roses, limited know-how and fund limitations as some of the factors that dissuade people from growing roses. She adds that it obliges them to import from Uganda.
Other horticultural products like apples and certain species of oranges cannot grow in the country due to unfavourable climate. Fruit production is also generally too low to satisfy even the local market.
Market vendors and fruit processors like Inyange Industries import most of their fruits from Burundi and Tanzania.
However, local cooperatives, especially in the Southern Province, have demonstrated their potential to supply enough pineapples to processing firms. Production of passion fruits around Kibuye has recently recorded a remarkable increase, and at one point, exported the surplus to Uganda.
Rwanda’s fruits are also of poor quality, which cannot compete at the international market, according to Nsanzabaganwa.
He says NAEB is trying to improve the quality of fruits by match-making, which is scientifically joining the upper part of an imported quality seedling with the bottom part of an indigenous seedling, which produces improved breeds. It is expected to yield high quality produce in three years.
The board is also putting in extra efforts to increase the production of macadamia and pyrethrum.
Nsanzabaganwa revealed that three collecting centres, which have cooling facilities to preserve fruits and vegetables, are under construction in Ngoma, Kamonyi and Musanze districts to add to the two existing ones in Rubavu and the Kigali International Airport.
The expected entry of new airlines into the Rwandan airspace is also expected to result into a reduction in airfreight costs to enhance horticultural exports.