There has been an increase in horticulture revenue as a result of continued adherence to international standards and ease in transporting cargo to foreign markets due to direct flights terminating from Rwanda to Europe.
In 2017 alone, the horticulture sector generated up to $21 million in revenues, up from $12 million in 2016, a 75 per cent increase.
Majority of Rwanda’s horticulture products, which include vegetables like French beans, hot pepper, snow peas and fruits like avocado, passion fruits, pineapples among others are exported to markets in France, UK, Netherlands and Dubai.
RwandAir operates three direct flights between Kigali, Gatwik and Brussels, while KLM connects Kigali to Europe through daily flights.
Sector players say this has greatly increased their fortunes.
RwandAir recently came up with a reduced shipment rate of $0.95 per kg for Rwandan exporters taking goods to destinations flown by the airline.
Exporters say direct flights have also helped ease the process of transporting goods and reduced reject rates at the market.
“Since I started exporting goods with Rwandair in June last year, the rates of rejects are now only between five and 10 per cent,” said Ben Mugisha, the CEO of Nature Fresh Foods, which recently obtained a global certification for meeting agricultural best practices and standards.
With this certificate it will be easier for the firm to export its goods across the world without limitations.
However, the horticulture sector still faces several challenges such as reducing the rate of rejects in the market, which stand at 15 per cent.
In a recent horticulture summit in Kigali organised by the National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB), sector players pointed out that there is a need to work on logistics for exports to reduce costs.
For example, the cost of transporting produce from the farm to the airport is still high.
There is also a need to invest in cold rooms and other produce handling mechanisms to ensure quality especially for perishable produce.
“The first and last mile require a lot of investment,” said Abhishek Sharma, the head of transport and logistics at Trade Mark East Africa. He said there is a need for value addition in increasing the shelf life of Rwandan horticulture exports.
“Air cargo is an important route for fresh produce, but more value addition would drastically reduce logistics costs,” said Mr Sharma, adding that East African exports take a long time to clear at the European customs and this needs to be addressed.
In 2017, Rwanda exported up to 650,000kg of flowers and vegetables, an increase from 400,000kg exported in 2016.
About 27 per cent of formal vegetable exports went to Europe, 22.55 per cent of green beans went to France and UK, while 3.41 per cent of bell peppers went to Belgium, France and the Netherlands in December 2017.
Bella flowers harvests 480,000 flower stems per week and exports them to France, Amsterdam, Alsmeer, Brussels and Romania.
Lotec Rwanda Ltd exports green beans, snow peas, sugar snaps, bird’s eye chillies, scotch bonnet, okra, matoke, passion fruit and avocadoes to the UK, Netherlands and Dubai.
The government expects to generate $140 million from horticulture by 2020 and currently the sector contributes three per cent of the national GDP and 10 per cent of agricultural GDP.