After a tough year, the fortunes of the local flower industry are expected to improve this year, especially when projects started by the National Agricultural Export Board (NAEB) to promote flower farming start production.
Currently, Rwanda produces summer and ornamental flowers. NAEB has been encouraging farmers to grow cut roses, and has also been trying to up its game and attract investors into the sector to benefit from the lucrative flower market in Europe.
Already, NAEB has injected €1.5m in the development of Gishwati flower park in Rwamagana, that is expected to start producing roses this year. So far, two greenhouses have been set up and power installed at the demostration project that sits on a 35-hectare piece of land, George Kayonga, the NAEB director general, said.
This year, two shipments totalling to about one tonne were exported to Europe on a pilot project, in May and October. The flowers generated €2,200. Only one local company is presently exporting flowers to Europe.
The government seeks to increase acreage under flowers to save about Rwf330m or $500,000 Rwanda spends on flower imports, and ensure sustainable supply to European markets.
Kayonga said the export board will this year offer more support to small-scale flower farmers to achieve this goal. The move is also aimed at promoting quality to ease access to more international markets, he added.
He said NAEB has a technical team that helps farmers, and also provides them with flower cold chain logistics from the farms to the airport cold room and, eventually, to international markets."
Kayonga said NAEB is working to see how best it can promote flower farming, and ensure quality and volumes if Rwanda is to benefit from floriculture. The industry is projected to earn Rwanda about $220m per year by 2017.
Floriculture was identified by the government as a 'quick win' sector that could boost the country's foreign exchange receipts in a short time.
Flowers production progress
Currently, 15 hectares of land are under summer flowers, mainly in high altitude areas of Northern, Western and Southern provinces in Rulindo, Musanze, Rubavu and Huye districts. Rwanda grows mainly white arums, Tuberose Agapanthus Gladiolus, Alstromelia Carnation and other minor varieties.
According to John Mwendia, a flower expert at NAEB, about 17 more hectares will be planted with flowers to make it 32 hectares of summer flowers which will be under production by the end of this year.
"There are more co-operatives and individual farmers who have shown interest in flowers and we hope that 67 hectares will be under production by 2015," he said.
Current production & projections:
Rwanda produces 1.4 million stems of summer flowers per year.
"With expansion of the area under flowers, and introduction of other high-value varieties, the country will be able to produce about 54 million stems per year, earning €8m per year by 2015," Mwendia said.
He noted that about only 50 per cent of the flowers produced reach the market due to poor post-harvest handling techniques. He said NAEB will be training flower farmers and other stakeholders to minimise losses during production and post-harvest periods.
According to Mwendia, lack of irrigation facilities is one of the major challenges farmers face. "Most of the farmers grow rain-fed flowers and, during the dry months, there are hardly any flowers to export," he said.
Lack of inputs like fertilisers, pesticide and planting materials, funds and use of old planting materials is also hurting the sector.
Poor post-harvest handling techniques and logistics which account for 50 per cent losses due to damages that emanate from cold chain breaks and products damage due to mishandling.
Mwendia advised that the progress so far made can only be maintained through professional guidance, financial support to the farmers, proper co-ordination and monitoring of activities and appropriate planning to reduce the delays that affect sector development.
Local authorities should set up a nucleus site for flower production to act as demonstration, source of information and as a training centre.