NewsEast & Horn AfricaAgriculture: Rwanda's harvest of thorns


Posted on Wednesday, 18 February 2015 17:18

Agriculture: Rwanda's harvest of thorns

By Kabona Esiara in Kigali

The government and local partners hope the Rwandan flower industry can bloom again. Photo©Martin Roemers/CosmosA new flower park holds promise for the commercial floriculture business, but logistics remain a major impediment, as a consultant's experiment showed.

The government and its partners in the floriculture sector hope to learn from failure and benefit from East Africa's blossoming flower export business.

It took me five days [to get] the 700kg of lilies I bought from smallholder farmers to the auction market

A private-public partnership between the government and Kenya's Shalimar Flowers offers a chance to build up an industry that is the livelihood of many small-scale producers and is plagued with substantial problems.

In September 2014, Shalimar bought a 25% stake in the government-owned Gishari Flower Park located 60km east of Kigali, Rwanda's capital.

The government has already invested $8m in the 35ha project.

"Shalimar is bringing in capital and expertise," says the National Agricultural Export Development Board's deputy director general Magnifique Ndambe Nzaramba.

He explains that Gishari will initially produce 1m stems before reaching its full potential of 3m per year.

Clare Akamanzi, chief operating officer of the Rwanda Development Board, explains the national importance of the project: "We are looking at developing the entire value chain for the horticulture and floriculture industry, from breeding, regulations, farming support, cold chain, skills and cargo.

The Gishari flower project, when completed, will be useful in demonstrating the country's potential."

Government statistics show that Rwanda produced 1.4m stems of summer flowers on 15ha scattered in high-altitude areas in Northern, Western and Southern provinces in 2013.

Lacking the necessary funds, infrastructure and expertise, other projects have faced difficulties.

Rwanda Flora's once neat rows of rose-bushes are covered by tall, wild weeds.

The few surviving roses are overgrown.

Purchased in 2004 by Beatrice Gakuba, an agribusiness entrepreneur, Rwanda Flora exported 4-5tn of flowers to Europe each week before it closed its doors in 2008.

The floriculture business can be be lucrative, but it remains risky and requires steady flows of capital.

Rwanda could break into East Africa's high-growth horticulture sector, but the competition is fierce and the challenges weighty.

NINAF is a new local consultancy whose founder, François Nsenga, is helping investors to venture into coloured lily production.

He plans to distribute plants to smallholder farmers who will help him meet minimum export quantities of at least 2tn per week.

As part of a market survey, Nsenga visited several small gardens, purchased flowers and exported them to the Netherlands as samples.

"These are artisan farmers who sort the flowers on the bare ground, tie them in bundles and balance them on their heads to get to the market," he explains.

"It took me five days [to get] the 700kg of lilies I bought from smallholder farmers to the auction market. Only half of the consignment of flowers passed the quality test," says Nsenga.

Hopping planes

Transport is a major obstacle to the industry's development.

The management of Rwanda Flora complained about Rwanda's poor flight connectivity, which adds to production costs and compromises the quality of flowers as shipments wait at Kigali International Airport's cold room.

Kigali airport has never sustained a large throughput of passengers or freight, forcing airlines to hop to larger airports in the region before departing on intercontinental trips.

The low volumes of flowers produced also make the exports less competitive.

Nsenga explains that the first airline he approached turned down a request to transport his flowers because the small consignment would not be very profitable.

Nsenga's flowers went to Entebbe International Airport in Uganda and Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Kenya before arriving in the Netherlands, translating into higher costs.

Whereas regional peers pay less than $1.5/kg, Rwandan exporters pay as much as $2/kg, de- pending on the airline.

"To reach the competitive flower market with fresh flowers, Rwanda needs direct cargo flights to Europe," argues Nsenga.

These constraints may scare away investors even as the government dangles incentives, including serviced land in a country where land is scarce. ● 

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