Rwanda looks to spice up international menus with premium red chillies

By Devika Jyothi

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‘I am excited with the progress of the chilli nurseries; the seedlings are looking very good,’ says Dieudonné Twahirwa, a farmer in Bugesera District, Eastern Province of Rwanda, and the owner of Gashora Farm Limited.

Mr. Twahirwa is part of the red chilli pilot project, an initiative of SITA in collaboration with Akay Flavours & Aromatics, an Indian company engaged in spices extraction. The pilot aims to develop premium quality, high value chilli varieties in Rwanda, and to establish direct linkages between farmers and buyers of red chilli, in Rwanda and India, respectively.

Rwandan spices: SITA gauges prospects and possibilities

Red chilli is a big part of certain cuisines in Africa, and of the Indian cuisine as well.  While India is one of the leading producers, consumers and exporters of premium quality chilli in the world, Rwanda’s chilli production is at a very nascent stage, marked by a limited production capacity and the deployment of primitive agronomic practices. However, the country’s rich soil fertility and climatic conditions present enormous potential for the cultivation of certain high value chillies.

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That makes red chilli a perfect fit for the SITA programme from both the investment and the trade perspective. SITA is working on the development of new, high value chilli varieties that are suitable for exports.

SITA had previously conducted two field visits in Rwanda, amongst others in Bugasera, Rusizi and Nyanza. A team, consisting of representatives from the National Agriculture Export Development Board (NAEB), an international expert on spices and SITA project representatives, assessed the spices production, and carried out a techno-commercial feasibility study for the production of select spices. In view of the country’s landlocked geography, the mission focused on high value crops like ginger, turmeric and chillies. The team found that while Rwanda produces limited quantities of bird’s eye chilli, the production of other crops like ginger and turmeric remains negligible.

The SITA team presented the findings to Akay Flavours, a leading buyer and processor of spices. Akay Flavours, having been looking for alternate sourcing destinations for certain chilli varieties, expressed interest in sourcing chillies from Rwanda.

Following due consultations between Akay Flavours, SITA, NAEB and Rwandan government authorities, meetings were also organised with select large scale farmers looking to expand their chilli production. The opportunity of growing different chilli varieties was discussed. Authorities expressed their support for the expansion of Rwanda’s chilli production, and emphasized the importance of also processing the chillies in Rwanda.

Rwandan red chilli: Developing a pilot programme

In line with the consultations, Akay Flavours and SITA have jointly developed a pilot project. Select farmers will grow six new chilli varieties in different locations in Rwanda. The total area covered under the pilot programme is around 5 hectares.  Akay Flavours has agreed to buy the entire harvest for the current season, at prevailing market prices.

‘We observed that bird’s eye chilli grows very well in Rwanda. But the demand for this variety is very limited and economic feasibility is very low. We intend to introduce different varieties of chillies with high demand in the international markets, offering better yields and returns to the farmers,’ said Shibu Anandarajan, Vice President of global sourcing at Akay Flavours.

The chilli seeds were provided by Akay Flavours, and distributed to eight commercial farmers between July 18 and 27, 2016. SITA and NAEB are providing agronomic support to the pilot farms and closely monitoring their progress.

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The project team will visit the farmers from September 2 to 10, 2016, to ensure the seedlings are effectively transplanted from the nurseries to the main fields. The farmers have also been provided with a technical note, detailing all agronomic practices that are to be followed. The ITC and NAEB teams will continue to monitor the execution of the pilot project until the harvest.

‘This pilot programme and training gives us a better, fresh hope to continue chilli farming. We had cultivated bird’s eye chilli in 2014, but the yield was poor. The trial seeds received as part of the pilot look very promising – they have good germination percentage and are growing vigorously,’ said Giscard Tuyishime, one of the farmers participating in the pilot programme.

If the yields and quality of produce meet global standards, Akay Flavours will work with select farmers and increase the production of chillies to over 250 hectares. This can produce around 1,000 tonnes of dried chilli annually, with a current market value of USD 2.0 million. ‘We will address the sustainability challenges in the cultivation of new varieties of chillies, and aim to expand their cultivation on a large scale in Rwanda with the help of SITA.  We thankfully acknowledge the support and guidance from SITA team for developing this project as we have initiated trial cultivation of different varieties of chillies. We look forward to the successIMG-20160816-WA0002 of the trial plots,’ Mr. Anandarajan of Akay Flavours remarked

Akay Flavours is also looking into the possibility of setting up primary processing facilities in Rwanda.

‘I really look forward to a long term partnership with Akay Flavours. However as the nurseries have been successful, we would like to get more seeds with higher yields, so we can start expanding this year instead of waiting for the next year,’ says an enthusiastic Mr. Twahirwa who was introduced to SITA project in May 2016.

In the meantime, SITA will work with other spice companies to expand the chilli production in Rwanda to over 1,000 hectares.

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