Gabriel Bizimungu is the general manager of Horizon Sopyrwa, a pyrethrum processing firm. He talked to Ben Gasore about the company's plans and its activities in the sub-sector. Excerpts:
Qn: Give us an overview of what your company does in the pyrethrum industry?
Ans: We support pyrethrum farmers in many ways. For example, we organise them in co-operatives and sensitise them on the crops best husbandry practices. We are also the main buyer of pyrethrum, which we extract, refine and export to the United States, Europe and Asia.
We sell some of it to Agropharm Africa, a sister company that produces organic insecticides locally.
When Horizon Sopyrwa opened shop, we were looking at increasing production through research on better ways growing the crop in Rwanda. We gave farmers incentives to expand their acreage. We work with local leaders in all our activities. To sum up, we expect gradual increase in output volumes in the coming years.
This follows the introduction of new varieties that mature after three to six months.
It is important to note that Rwanda has been growing pyrethrum since 1936, so farmer have a lot of experience.
How are you helping farmers to increase production?
There are four major pyrethrum producers worldwide, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Australia. As a result, the global supply of the crop is estimated to be about half of the demand. So all the main pyrethrum-producing countries are looking at how they can increase production to satisfy the market demand.
Rwanda has huge potential to grow the crop, with a factory that is under-utilised. When Horizon Sopyrwa had just come, production was very low at about four tones a year. This represented less than 10% of the production capacity of our factory.
How did you improve the situation?
First of all, we analysed the problems the sub-sector was facing. The farmers were, for example, not being paid on time and at half the expected value by middlemen. There was also lack of research, incentives and seeds.
Generally, there was no kind of assistance given to the farmers. Driers were also lacking. So far, 11 driers have been built across the pyrethrum-producing areas. Previously, it was hard to control production, but we have changed all this.
To be able to monitor the farmers, we organised them in co-operatives, where we channeled loans to help them buy inputs and also run the co-operatives. There are also SACCOS, where they can be able to get loans whenever need arises.
Initially, the plants were old and produced low yields. Farmers were also using splits instead of new seeds to grow the crop. So we started planting new seeds that yield fast and produce quality flowers and extract. We also did more research on what fertilisers to use and introduced new technology to improve the plant. At the end of the season, we organise a day to reward outstanding farmers to boost their morale to grow more pyrethrum.
The government wants more land to be under the crop and is targeting 3,000 hectares, but has so far secured 1, 900 hectares in Gishwati. Also, farmers are now cultivating on a 3,200 hectare consolidated piece of land.
What are you doing to discourage farmers from planting splits?
The use of splits leads to low production. So we have introduced a system, where we help farmers buy seeds. Therefore, this problem will soon cease.
What is Rwanda's production volume?
From 2009, we have been able to increase production from six tonnes to around 27 tonnes in 2012.
Why would you grow the crop?
Farmers whose land is not designated for pyrethrum growing should take on the crop because it has a ready market. A kilogramme of dried extract is Rwf1,080.
A farmer, located on land with well-drained fertile soils, can grow 1,600kg worth of flower extract. This is good money when you do the math.
Remember, we give farmers free seeds and other incentives to help them grow the crop so we can maximise our plant's capacity.
I advise farmers to grow pyrethrum alongside other crops to ensure they have food. However, growing pyrethrum, gives you a steady income stream for a long period of time. A serious pyrethrum farmer cannot lack of anything.
How is Rwanda fairing compared to the other pyrethrum growing countries in the region?
Pyrethrum farmers in Kenya are having similar problems to the ones we had when we were starting. We are working with Tanzania to increase production and are willing to support others, too. Recently, a team from Uganda came to learn from our farmers. We can always work with them as long as the farmers are happy because they are the main beneficiaries.
What are some of the products made from pyrethrum?
We extract from pyrethrum a natural organic pesticide, which is much better than the artificial synthetic pesticides that are expensive and pose health risks.