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Hot property: Rwanda spices up its exports

Bird's eye chillies are a relatively new crop to Rwanda, but they have a well-established market in developed countries (Identity Africa )
Bird's eye chillies are a relatively new crop to Rwanda, but they have a well-established market in developed countries
Identity Africa

In the aftermath of the devastating genocide of 1994, Rwanda struggled to rehabilitate its agricultural sector, but in recent years the economy has rebounded. No longer regarded as unstable, the country has attracted private investment and begun to recover from the horrors of a civil war that saw 800,000 Rwandans - around 10 per cent of the population - massacred, and a country left in ruins.

Although the vast majority of Rwandans are subsistence farmers, some are now involved in initiatives to promote high-value exports of cassava, coffee, geraniums, and chilli peppers, a relatively new crop to Rwanda. These initiatives have been supported by USAID and SPREAD (Sustaining Partnerships to enhance Rural Enterprise and Agribusiness Development), in partnership with organisations such as Fairtrade, the National University of Rwanda, the Agricultural Research Institute of Rwanda and the Rwandan National Coffee Board.

Timothy Schilling, director of SPREAD, believes their programmes to produce and export premium cassava and chilli products are "a direct attempt to put cash in the hands of as many rural smallholder producers as possible." In some cases farmers can double their profits compared to selling crops locally, enabling them to spend more on education, health and home improvement.

Flour power

In France, cassava flour (fou fou) from Rwanda was already being sold in grocery stores for €4 per kilo, but the product was generally poorly prepared and packaged. By establishing an agreement to deliver an improved product for a better price, USAID. worked with private Rwandan investors and farmers in Gikonko, Butare province to process and package the flour - retailed as 'bon foufou'. By early 2005, the first container was shipped to France, where it sold for €4.50 per kilo. For Rwanda, says Schilling, this was "the first product grown, processed, packaged and exported directly to a European supermarket chain."

High quality chillies were also identified by USAID, as another potential export crop, particularly as the crop has an established international market. As chillies were found to grown well in Butare province with natural lowland irrigation, the bird's eye chilli pepper variety was chosen for its high value, and the availability of labour for the extensive picking and sorting required.

In 2005, bird's eye chilli exports totalled 21 tons and improved cassava flour 48 tons involving over 500 smallholder chilli pepper producers and over 2,000 cassava farmers. Another 150 people were involved in post-harvest work. Unfortunately, the following year a lack of funding led to a significant drop in the number of participating farmers but the project is moving forward once more and Schilling reports that one container each of cassava flour and chillies was shipped this year to France and one container of chillies was also exported to The Netherlands.

Future potential

During recent months, a further 50 hectares of chillies have been planted, and construction of a cassava flour factory is underway. "We're also investigating whether we can use local coffee washing stations to process flour during the coffee off-season," continues Schilling. "The results look promising."

Chilli production has the potential to improve the livelihoods of some of Rwands'a poorest smallholder farmers (Identity Africa )
Chilli production has the potential to improve the livelihoods of some of Rwands'a poorest smallholder farmers
Identity Africa

Farming bird's eye chillies is a new challenge to Rwandan farmers. Schilling says "We had to start at the ground level. We did training in nursery development, transplanting, mulching, picking, drying and food safety interventions like wearing masks." The other main challenge for the chilli growers was in meeting the requirements to produce, process and transport commercial volumes. "Because the farmers all have little garden plots, we need lots of farmers," says Schilling. "That means organisation and management; things they aren't used to."

Schilling believes everyone involved is hopeful that the progress being made in Butare will spread throughout the country. "It's nothing but hard work, tenacity, perseverance and a little clever thinking on the marketing end," he notes. "The other key is investment," he continues. "Somebody has to put up the money to 'grow' these value chains until the sector breaks even, so that you can wean off the donor support and have it sustain itself commercially."

He concludes: "Even though these value chains are still young and very fragile, working with public-private partnerships really is the way to achieve economic rural development."

Written by: Treena Hein

Date published: November 2007


Have your say

Am happy with you over chili project. We grow chili a lot wi... (posted by: EDGAR KAGABA KAFENERO)


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