Rwanda is a primary commodity exporter to Europe, the United States of America (USA) and Asia; tea, coffee, pyrethrum and minerals as the main exports, accounting for about 58% of total exports.
Primary commodity exporting economies are prone to market volatility as prices are determined by forces of demand and supply from importing countries. Yet under EDPRS II, Rwanda's economic blueprint, the government targets a 28% increase in the value of exports by 2020.
In order to achieve that target, there is need to make Rwandan products acceptable in lucrative export markets by making them conform to international standards.
Essential oils have been identified as having potential to boost Rwanda's exports due to the high demand on the global market and the good soils and weather conditions at home that favour production of plants such as Geranium, Eucalyptus, Pyrethrum and Patchouli from which essential oils are extracted. The oils are then used to manufacture perfumes and pharmaceutical products.
"As a result of this support, RSB has added 25 parameters to its testing scope, reduced testing costs from $500 to $250 and also reduced testing time from 60 to only 25 days".
With funding from TradeMark East Africa (TMEA), Rwanda Standards Board (RSB) has acquired equipment for testing and certification of essential oils. This is necessary if Rwandan producers are to export to advanced markets such as the European Union or USA.
"The government wants to attract more investors into the sector because of the big potential. With facilities for testing and certification, more investors will be encouraged to invest in extraction of essential oils," says Antoine Mukunzi, RSB Director Quality Testing Laboratories.
Using the machines, RSB can test essential oils and certify them as genuine products in order to build consumer trust and confidence in the quality of Rwandan products.
"It is very difficult to develop standards and certification without a laboratory. I remember in 2008, when we did not have machines for testing construction materials, we sent samples to Europe for testing but up to now, we haven't received the results," Mukunzi noted.
The equipment brings relief to Rwanda's essential oils exporters who spend over Rwf 225 million annually to test 750 samples abroad. "This is expensive and time consuming," says Mukunzi.
This is the first essential oils testing laboratory facility in the East African region and RSB is optimistic that it will benefit not only Rwanda but also the entire region.
Already, the equipment has encouraged pyrethrum exporters to invest in essential oil extraction line. One such new investor is SOPYRWA, a company that manufactures pesticides from pyrethrum. SOPYRWA is planning to invest in a production line for extraction of essential oils by making adjustments on their pyrethrum extraction line.
The lab will also eliminate counterfeiters, develop trust among buyers of Rwandan essential oils and boost export revenues. "Plant materials are expensive and sometimes counterfeiters will attempt to make some things that are like essential oils. With the testing machines available, we want our essential oils to be registered and patented-in a similar way we have been doing with coffee, to make it competitive," said Mukunzi.
The equipment is just part of TMEA's broader support to RSB to upgrade its testing and certification laboratories, train technical people and develop new standards to boost exports and help the country reduce the trade deficit.
"The programme support to RSB has made very good progress as it has facilitated RSB in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of product testing and strengthening the capacity of the private sector to understand and adhere to set standards," says Anataria Karimba, Programme Manager in TMEA.
TMEA has supported RSB since 2012 to develop capacity in testing equipment in order to gain international accreditation; and expand its work on product and company certification related to food safety as well as strengthening quality management certification. This is being done through a twinning arrangement with the British Standards Institutions (BSI).
As a result of this support, RSB has added 25 parameters to its testing scope, reduced testing costs from $500 to $250 and also reduced testing time from 60 to only 25 days.
Still under this programme, TMEA funded the purchase of the latest hi-tech testing equipment that checks the purity of Rwanda's key exports, such as coffee, for mycotoxins. This effectively removed the need to take samples for testing abroad. About 900 coffee samples were previously sent abroad each year for testing at a cost of Rwf300 million.
RSB has also developed testing and certification capacity for contaminants in minerals, waste water, water and soil sample; element content in mining samples and construction materials; metal content in water, soil, food and feed.
Private sector Training
Developing capacity in testing and standards alone cannot achieve the ultimate objective of increasing the competitiveness of Rwandan products. RSB and TMEA found it necessary to also train food processors in safety standards under the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) programme.
HACCP is an internationally accepted food quality certification system designed to increase food safety by analyzing and controlling biological, chemical and physical hazards along the production process-from production of raw materials to the final product on the shelves.
The HACCP, launched in 2013, trained 21 enterprises. Some 18 companies immediately applied for certification after the training and eight of them have been certified so far.
Under the second phase of the programme that starts next year and ends in 2023, TMEA will continue financing efforts aimed at harmonizing standards-a crucial element in boosting intra-regional trade as well as enabling Rwandan products access developed markets.
"Standards play a significant role in trade and affect different players in the market system, thus TMEA's continued commitment to ensuring that both the bureaux of standards and the private sector have the capacity to conform to different standards with the aim of accessing different markets and increasing exports," Karimba said.