Rwanda’s es­sen­tial oils of­fer big prof­its from lit­tle land

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

In­side a metal shed in south­east­ern Rwanda, Ni­cholas Hiti­mana bran­dished a plas­tic con­tainer hold­ing a green liq­uid: gera­nium es­sen­tial oil, freshly dis­tilled and ready for ex­port at more than $200 (175 eu­ros) a kilo.

The pi­o­neer of es­sen­tial oils in Rwanda, Hiti­mana said he un­der­stood over a decade ago “the need to de­velop high-value crops” in his hilly na­tion of just 2.6 mil­lion hectares (6.4 mil­lion acres).

Agri­cul­ture ac­counts for nearly a third of GDP and em­ploys four-fifths of the pop­u­la­tion and, as a re­sult, there is “lit­tle arable land” re­main­ing. “On a hectare, if we grow beans, we earn about $2,000 a year, whereas on the same land, if we grow gera­nium, the in­come can reach $6,000 or even $8,000,” Hiti­mana says. The trained agron­o­mist em­bod­ies Rwanda’s am­bi­tion of di­ver­si­fy­ing its agri­cul­ture and in­creas­ing the value of ex­ports by get­ting into the lu­cra­tive global mar­ket for es­sen­tial oils. To this end, Hiti­mana has been im­port­ing gera­ni­ums from South Africa since 2004.

At the time the flower was vir­tu­ally un­known in Rwanda, but Hiti­mana was con­vinced of the “great po­ten­tial” of the es­sen­tial oil sec­tor.

Four crops a year

“In South Africa there can only be two har­vests a year, but here, as there is no win­ter, it is pos­si­ble to get up to four crops a year,” says Hiti­mana, whose com­pany Ikirezi Nat­u­ral Prod­ucts has since grown and di­ver­si­fied. With 25 hectares of plan­ta­tions, it pro­duces 1,000 kilo­grams of es­sen­tial oils de­rived from patchouli, lemon grass and eu­ca­lyp­tus as well as gera­ni­ums. The oils are ex­ported to Canada, South Africa, the US and else­where for use in the per­fume in­dus­try. The com­pany em­ploys 70 farm­ers. “At first, it was not easy to con­vince them to aban­don sub­sis­tence for com­mer­cial agri­cul­ture,” he says, adding the work is more pre­cise than grow­ing beans.

“We need to plant on time, ma­nure on time, hoe, turn the soil, ir­ri­gate and har­vest on time”, or risk a “dras­ti­cally” re­duced yield, Hiti­mana says, not­ing that it takes be­tween 600-1,000 ki­los of gera­ni­ums to pro­duce a sin­gle kilo of oil. A few years on, and the em­ploy­ees seem con­vinced. “Since I’ve been work­ing here, I’ve been able to build a house with a tin roof, I can pay for my son’s school­ing and buy ev­ery­thing I need,” says 55-year-old Stephanie Muka­mana, busily weed­ing around a gera­nium plant.

Last year, Rwanda ex­ported around 14 tonnes of es­sen­tial oils-gera­nium, moringa, patchouli and tagetes-bring­ing in $473,000, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Agri­cul­tural Ex­port Devel­op­ment Board.

Rwanda is also cul­ti­vat­ing pyrethrum, used in nat­u­ral in­sec­ti­cides.

Ac­cord­ing to the In­dia-based firm Mar­ket Re­search Fu­ture (MRFR), es­sen­tial oils are in­creas­ingly in de­mand in richer coun­tries for use in cos­met­ics, food and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals. The world mar­ket is fore­cast to grow by seven per­cent be­tween 2017 and 2022, says MRFR. To get its share of the cake, Rwanda opened an es­sen­tial oil lab­o­ra­tory three years ago, the first of its kind in the re­gion, al­low­ing qual­ity con­trol.

“One of the main chal­lenges fac­ing Rwanda is a grow­ing trade deficit and a lim­ited num­ber of com­pet­i­tive com­pa­nies that can meet re­gional and in­ter­na­tional ex­port stan­dards,” says Pa­tience Mutesi, Rwanda di­rec­tor for Trade­Mark East Africa, which pro­motes re­gional trade and helped fund the lab project. — AFP


GAHARA, Rwanda: A man chops wood at a small fac­tory in Gahara in the South­east of Rwanda on April 28, 2017. Last year, Rwanda ex­ported around 14 tons of es­sen­tial oils — gera­nium, moringa, patchouli and tagetes — bring­ing in $473,000, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Agri­cul­tural Ex­port Devel­op­ment Board.

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