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Dutch Greenhouse Project Changes the Landscape of Rwanda’s Horticulture Sector

Published on: 15-Feb-2016

Rwanda Best is a horticulture and poultry farm in Rulindo, some kilometers away from Rwanda’s capital Kigali. When driving up to the farm owned by Mr. Jean Claude Ruzibiza, one immediately notices the brand-new greenhouse that is located in the middle of the farm’s fields. On November 24, 2015, the surroundings of this greenhouse were the site of festive activities attended by a.o. H.E. State Minister Tony Roberto Nsanganira from the Ministry of Agriculture and H.E. Ambassador Frédérique de Man of the Netherlands Embassy. Together they planted a young tomato plant to officially open this Smart Adaptive Sustainable Horticulture (SMART) Greenhouse. Currently, fresh tomatoes and bell peppers for high-end markets are being produced in the facility. With the greenhouse in place, Rwanda Best expects a large increase in tomato yield, which can be 30-50% if all products and innovations are applied correctly.

Over the past few years, the horticulture sector in Rwanda has been growing extensively. However, demand for freshly grown vegetables and fruits cannot be met with local production. Import from Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya can partially cover the demand, but this discrepancy logically opens up business opportunities for Rwandan companies active in vegetable production, processing, packaging, cold-chain technology, agro-inputs, and agro-consultancy. Likewise, there are abundant opportunities for wholesalers looking to distribute high-quality fresh produce to high-end markets like retailers and hotels. Supplying vegetables to DRC, especially Goma and Bukavu, offers an opportunity as well. Despite the existing demand, local production is only growing slowly due to a lack of access to the right production tools as well as knowledge and training on good farming practices.

The recently built greenhouse at Rwanda Best is part of the 4 year SMART horticulture program in Rwanda and provides a counterweight in the absence of these knowledge & tools in the Rwandan horticulture sector. The SMART consortium includes leading Dutch greenhouse technology suppliers and knowledge partners - TNO, Rwanda Best Company, Wageningen UR, BoPinc, Bosman van Zaal, Hoogendoorn, RijkZwaan, Koppert - and is managed by Greenport Holland / DHTB. The program is 50% funded by the Dutch government and by the Dutch and Rwandan private sector.

The objective of the program is to increase and improve production of vegetables to create a commercial chain development with competitive prices and good quality for local, regional and international markets. To reach this goal, the program combines the introduction of new technologies with a training program. Wageningen University coordinates the training program while BoPinc takes care of the knowledge dissemination. 7 cooperatives are involved in the training program. Within the training program, farmers will be supported to realize higher yields with innovative production methods. The added value for Rwanda is to maximize the production of vegetables per square meter and to control the quality and production costs at the same time. Rwanda Best serves as open field agriculture training center.

This modern greenhouse facility is part of the transition from traditional farming to a more innovative way of growing horticulture produce in Kigali and its surroundings. The greenhouse is equipped with world class horticulture technology provided by leading Dutch companies and knowledge institutions of SMART program. The soil steaming, integrated biological disease and insect control systems, fertilizers as well as quality seeds, are some of the features that increase the production of freshly grown tomatoes and sweet pepper in the facility. In addition to that, the facility includes training rooms where horticulture farmers get hands-on training on maximizing the production of vegetables per square meter by controlling the quality and production costs at the same time. As Program coordinator, Norbert van der Straaten states, “The partnership with small horticulture growers, such as Rwanda Best, creates a case for knowledge transfer on innovative horticulture production”. The training facility, as well as partner companies’ local representation, provides the opportunity for growers to have access to collaborations and further work during and after the completion of the program.  

It is a common understanding in Rwanda and many other developing countries that although greenhouses can have significant positive effects on the quality and quantity of agricultural production, adapted greenhouses with good ventilation capacity and automated irrigation and fertilization are usually only available for large farms with a large invest capacity.

The training program at Rwanda Best will end in June 2017. Acknowledging the need for more affordable greenhouses with a local support option, the Dutch companies in the consortium have worked together to come up with a practical follow-up initiative. Norbert van der Straaten and business partner William Macharia have set up Holland Green-Tech, a company offering a complete greenhouse-package including the building of greenhouse, water and fertilization systems, hybrid seeds and biological crop protection, training (provided by Rwandese agronomists) and maintenance of greenhouses.

The SMART-project provides a good case for greenhouse horticulture in Rwanda, and it has already resulted in more Rwandan companies investing in a greenhouse via its commercial counterpart Holland Green-Tech. Looking at these preliminary results, it is definitely expected that the SMART input of innovative Dutch greenhouse technology and training will positively affect the development of Rwanda’s agriculture sector. Or in the words of Rwanda Best’s owner Mr. Ruzibiza: “With the right technology and skills, Rwanda will become a major horticulture hub in the region”.

Author: Emnet Assefa. Netherlands-African Business Council

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