No sting in the tail for sisal-growing cooperative

While other people are cursing their way to work through traffic jams, Jean Luc Ngarambe takes a leisurely stroll through his tree nursery beds to look after many varieties of seedlings they contain. Not only is the start of his day much more relaxed than that of people with office jobs, he is also his own boss.

Jean Luc Ngarambe. (photo Eric Didier Karinganire)

Jean Luc Ngarambe. (photo Eric Didier Karinganire)

That started in 2009, when the agronomy graduate from ISAE Busogo had been job-hunting for over a year. Fed up, he started looking at ways to create his own employment. “I began by assessing what I was capable of doing and what I was not, and identifying opportunities and challenges,” Ngarambe explains. “Then I thought of people who could complement my weakness in order to form a strong team.”

And so Horticulture Business Center was born, a cooperative made up by 7 members engaged in horticulture, especially agave sisal, the fibers of which are used in agaseke weaving. Activities on sisal range from seedling multiplication, surface extension, environment protection, handicraft production and research.

Nearly four years later, the 30-year young agronomist can’t complain about the business. “We are now competing for tenders worth millions,” Ngarambe says. “We are really running a flourishing industry.”

Whatever initial doubts the group might have had about the project, they quickly vanished when they landed their first big contract, already in 2009, to remedy the issue of erosion on Mount Kigali by planting sisal. Since then, business has been booming.

Apart from the occasional environmental project, most of the cooperative’s business goes to over 60 cooperatives making agaseke. A single sisal plant yields between 150 and 200 leaves, and 5 leaves are required for one basket; one leaf is sold between Frw 50 and 100. When it comes to planting, one seedling can make them earn up to Frw 400. What makes sisal all the more interesting is that, since it is a type of cactus, it can even grow in poor soil.

For Ngarambe, providing raw materials for handicrafts is just a start. The next step, he says, would be to find ways to transform the fibers into carpet, bags and even rods used in construction. In addition, he is planning a study tour to Morogoro in Tanzania, where sisal is used to produce biofuel.

Horticulture Business Center is also looking beyond sisal, starting activities to set up a palm tree plantation in Ngoma district. They also have plans to do the same in Bukavu and Bujumbura.

The cooperative’s success has also been recognized by others: theirs was among the best business planners in the ongoing Hanga umurimo program, set up by Minicom to support mainly youth and women who have good business ideas but lack financial support.

For Ngarambe, this is not due to luck, but the result of a comprehensive long-term plan. “We did not achieve this in one day,” he says. “It’s the fruit of a process of carefully identifying what you’re capable of and then implementing it. It’s been a step-by-step process.”

For the self-made man, it also shows that even with limited means you can create your own employment, as long as you’re realistic in recognizing your weak and strong sides, and are ready to learn along the way.

“The more you get engaged in business, the more you get experienced,” Ngarambe observes. “You may even fail, but you gain lessons that help you improve.”

 

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High food prices due to regional markets

While over the past years food production has steadily increased, this has so far had little impact on prices, which remain relatively high.

Trade and Industry Minister Francois Kanimba: the market determines the prices. (photo Eric Didier Karinganire)

Trade and Industry Minister Francois Kanimba: the market determines the prices. (photo Eric Didier Karinganire)

Yields of beans for instance increased 37% in 2012 season A compared to the same season last year, while it was 19% for maize. And earlier this year, the ministry of agriculture and animal resources announced an expected annual surplus of 300,000 tons of maize and 200,000 tons of beans.

While such an increase in supply would normally result in lower prices, the situation on the market is that food stuff is not only quite expensive, but prices are often increasing. Trade and Industry Minister Francois Kanimba, this is due to the instability of the regional market as a result of drought that has stricken many areas. Kenya has been worst hit by unusual weather patterns, with several regions in the country facing food shortages.

As a result, part of the Rwandan harvest has been exported, mainly to EAC countries given that most commodities cross borders taxes free in the bloc.

According to Kanimba, there is little the government can do about this. “We do not set the prices, they are determined by the market,” the Minister explained. “What we can do is to put in place favorable policies to further increase production.”

He also pointed out that nevertheless, prices on the Rwandan market are rather stable compared to the rest of the region.

On of the main measures to boost agricultural production is to fully exploit all arable land, Kanimba remarked. Large marshlands like Akanyaru and Nyabarongo therefore will be prepared for farming activities.

Use of improved seeds and fertilizers will also help in ensuring food security. “Better use of fertilizers, for instance, has doubled maize yields per hectare,” Kanimba pointed out, yet he added that there is still much room for improvement – today, only 30 kg of fertilizers are used per hectare, while developed countries use between 100 and 150 kg per hectare.

For this reason, the Minister pointed out, the government is subsidizing fertilizers at the rate of 50%, while farmers can pay the remaining half in installments.

 

Agriculture stakeholders validate land-lease charter

Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and the Rwanda Natural Resources Authority (RNRA) this Wednesday met main stakeholders in agriculture development to discuss and validate a proposed client charter for the leasing of agricultural land to investors.

Participants in the agricultural land leasing workshop. (photo Eric Didier Karinganire)

Participants in the agricultural land leasing workshop. (photo Eric Didier Karinganire)

Dr Emmanuel Nkurunziza, director general of RNRA, said that the objective of the workshop was to look at the current process of leasing land in the country and see whether it is suitable to attract investors. It was also meant to address investment challenges in country’s agribusiness sector through the client charter.

Nkurunziza said the introduction of the client charter is overdue given that some of the laws that were being referred date back a long time and are therefore no longer very relevant.

According to Tony Nsanganira, head of the agriculture development department at RDB, the charter – clearly describing  steps, time and cost of each district land leasing –  is a pledge to agribusiness investors to streamline the process of acquiring land, making it faster, transparent and predictable. “Our main mission is to attract many investors in various sectors,” he said. “So we have to make sure that agricultural land is effectively exploited as agriculture remains the backbone of the economy.”

In 2011, about US$ 78 million was invested in the agriculture sector.

Nsanganira also pointed out that Rwanda will not only benefit from big investors in agribusiness through the expertise they bring in, but also job creation.

The client charter will initially focus on state-owned land, although private land owners should follow the same guidelines to make sure that land gives maximum profits to the country, Nsanganira remarked.

Although off late the land tenure system has been significantly reformed, he noted, some challenges remained when it comes to leasing agricultural land; thus the charter was elaborated by drawing from the existing laws and regulations, and recent practical experiences of leasing land to agribusiness investors.

The requirements for agribusiness projects include consultations with all affected people in the areas of investments, development plans, project milestones, environmental and social management plans as a basis for continued access to land and reduced delays in land lease processes among others.