The horticultural sector in Rwanda has great potential to create higher incomes for farmers, increase foreign trade and economic growth, and improve food and nutrition security. The HortInvest project of Wageningen University & Research and its partners aims to unlock this potential. What are the issues that need to be tackled?
Cabbage and tomato, eggplants, carrots and onions as well as fruits like avocados, mangos, bananas and passion fruit bring vital minerals and vitamins to the Rwandan people. Improving the cultivation and supply of these crops can create jobs, increase farmers' income, boost economic growth and contribute to food and nutrition security. Moreover, a professional horticultural sector opens the door to exporting fruit and vegetables. For these reasons, the government of Rwanda has prioritised the sector. However, the sector is still in development. Bottlenecks are horticultural production, farming and business skills, post-harvest handling, value addition, logistics and market linkages. Also, sector-wide issues in general need attention, like access to land, sector governance, finance, and inputs like seed, crop protection products and fertiliser. The four-year project HortInvest aims to support the sector in such issues.
In order to help unlock the potential of the horticulture sector, the embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Rwanda funded the four-year project Investing in Horticultural Development in Rwanda (HortInvest), led by SNV. The project mainly operates in six districts in the northwest of the hilly country. It aims at improving market-led horticultural production and supplies for domestic and regional markets, as well as developing high-value horticultural exports. SNV and other partners are involved in setting up demonstration sites and training farmers in good agricultural practices, like pest management or raising seedlings, as well as agribusiness skills and market linkages.
Supporting a sector-wide platform
The sector needs a well-functioning enabling environment, says Edwin van der Maden, HortInvest project coordinator at Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation. With a team of WUR colleagues, van der Maden works on improving this enabling environment. For example, by providing support to strengthen the operations of the existing Rwanda Horticultural Working Group, a sector-wide public-private multi-stakeholder dialogue platform that unites producers and other companies in the value chain with government representatives. Van der Maden states that 'The platform meets quarterly to discuss and jointly solve collaboratively sector-wide issues that hamper the development of the sector. Legislations or policies that result in inefficient procedures in export are also discussed.' In addition to a platform on vegetables and fruits, a special platform is being initiated on potatoes, an important crop in Rwanda.
Apart from contributing to the enabling environment, Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation also brokers expertise from other parts of WUR to HortInvest. At WUR, we have a pool of experts on a variety of topics, for example on plant sciences, environmental sciences but also on economic or postharvest issues. Our experts can give technical assistance on soil fertility, for example, or on pest and disease management.
Youth and gender
As young people and women are vital for a flourishing horticultural sector, support is also given to the cross-cutting theme of youth and gender. A focal group was established to develop a strategy and ensure mainstreaming of youth and gender in all project activities. Involvement of youth in horticulture is stimulated, for example through support for organising the Youth in Agribusiness Caravan which was held in Rwanda in November 2018.
An investment fund of €5m plays an important role in the HortInvest project. Rwandese companies or cooperatives can get co-investment of up to 50% for business cases and innovation projects. One examples is an export company that wants to invest in refrigerated transport services to improve the cool chain and logistics for quality vegetables; another example is a mobile cash transfer service for farmers, buyers and suppliers to improve access to finance.
Opportunities for horticulture
A well-developed horticultural sector can be an answer to the pressing question of how to feed fast-growing populations and to provide them with high-quality, safe and nutritious food, while at the same time increasing economic growth, private sector development and foreign trade. For that reason, the interest in horticulture is growing, not only in Rwanda, but across Africa and worldwide. Van der Maden states: 'We see many programmes and initiatives supporting horticulture in recent years, especially in low- and middle-income countries. Besides, there is a shift towards more integrated approaches, stimulating to link several projects and activities in the sector together to create synergies. There is a shift towards a focus on broader food system approaches.' He adds that there are many opportunities in other countries as well. 'We can learn from the lessons in Rwanda, Ghana, Kenya and other countries where we worked on horticulture and apply this to develop the horticulture sector in other regions and countries. That way we can offer added value for support and development of inclusive and sustainable food systems.'