Agriculture is one of the most lucrative and productive drivers of the economy, a fact that should encourage investors to tap into the many opportunities the sector presents.
Tony Nsanganira, who heads the Agribusiness department at Rwanda Development Board, made the call while setting the pace at the Cracking the Nut conference, a three-day event that opened yesterday in Kigali.
Nsanganira said the country exhibited great potential and had many viable opportunities, especially in value addition in agriculture, information-based sector (ICT) and real estate.
The conference opened with a match-making session where investors were taken through the various business opportunities available in agriculture sector.
Nsanganira, who represented the chief executive of Rwanda Development Board, Valentine Rugwabiza, said the sector is one of the main drivers of gross domestic product.
"The government has identified it as a sector of priority to reduce poverty and drive economic growth. It caters for 90 per cent of the national food need and also generates more than 50 per cent of Rwanda's total export revenue," Nsanganira said.
He added that the sector has exhibited major growth in the last few years.
"In the last five years, the sector has had a 4.9 per cent growth and contributed to about 36 per cent of GDP, with tea and coffee being the major exports," he said.
Registered private investments have been playing a huge role in creating progress in the agricultural sector in the recent years totaling $512 million cumulatively over the last 13 years.
"Currently, we have 184 projects that have been running between 2000 and 2013. Before that, we had only three projects registered worth less than $1 million. Although tea and coffee have dominated the sector, they currently account for only about 19 per cent of total investment. Private investors have opened up other sub-sectors such as beverages, dairy, meat, rice and fish, among others," Nsanganira said.
The official also took investors through the attractions that makes it worth sinking their money into agricultural projects.
Among these, he mentioned the country's favourable ranking in the World Bank's Doing Business Report 2014, which ranked Rwanda as the top global reformer out of 189 countries, 22nd in protecting investor property and 13th in accessing credit.
"Gallup poll also ranked us as the safest country in the world in 2012. We are also building a robust capital market and Kigali Special Economic Zone that in the first phase will have 98 hectares of fully serviced land with roads, energy, fibre optic cable and water," he said.
The country also provides incentives that come in handy for investors such as duty free access within EAC and Comesa and no restriction on repatriation of capital and profits for foreign investors.
Among the opportunities on offer are horticultural projects, establishment of Kigali wholesale market for fresh produce, dairy investment in Rubirizi dairy, partnership at Mukamira dairy and tea and coffee expansion projects.
Raphel Rurangwa, the director-general of planning and programme coordination at the Ministry of Agriculture, said they were collaborating with RDB on policy interventions to make land use more efficient and sustainable.
They are working to develop an agricultural land lease client charter along with standard contract and corporate farming models, which will be ready in about two weeks to ease land lease processes.
RDB has also been in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture in developing infrastructure that will make for smoother agricultural processes such as energy and irrigation projects.
Already, q feeder roads upgrading programme has a target of 2,300 kilometres in the next five years.
Investors were also reminded to invest responsibly and be keen on the social and environmental impacts of their projects.
The call was made by Anita Campion, the president of AZMJ (a global consulting firm offering services to transform international development and build local capacity).
"It should not only be about how much a firm makes, but also about having positive social impacts in the communities. By using socially-responsible investment approaches, investors can have an impact on food security, environmental protection, economic productivity of a region as well as health and education," Campion said.
Her comments were echoed by Frank Rubio, the global head of agriculture at Oikocredit, a renowned social investor that funds microfinances, who said they are always looking to fund responsible investors, citing firms that were having an impact on surrounding communities.
"There are lots of collaborative opportunities through which investors can be socially responsible like, leveraging public resources and coordinating group work outputs to improve management of smaller projects," Rubio said.