By Devika Jyothi
Farming is said to be a ‘profession of hope,’ with farmers facing a range of challenges including the lack of quality seeds, inadequate knowledge of good agricultural practices, lack of reliable market and lack of capital, among others.
While they had fertile land and water for irrigation, Rwandan farmers looking to venture into chilli cultivation were discouraged by some of the very same challenges in the past.
It is here that the International Trade Centre (ITC), through its Supporting Indian Trade and Investment for Africa (SITA) project, intervened with a pilot scheme early this year. Through the scheme premium quality, high value chilli varieties are being developed in Rwanda, and farmers are being linked to buyers in India.
The scheme is a joint effort of SITA, Rwanda’s National Agriculture Export Development Board (NAEB), and Akay Flavours & Aromatics, a leading Indian buyer and processor of spices. Select farmers are currently growing new chilli varieties in Rwanda, and Akay Flavours & Aromatics has agreed to buy their entire harvest at prevailing market prices.
In July 2016 Akay Flavours & Aromatics provided premium quality chilli seeds to NAEB for distribution to the Rwandan farmers, and in September 2016 the seedlings were effectively transplanted from nurseries to the main fields under the supervision of the project team.
This month, SITA organised a mission to assess the progress of the hybrid chilli trials in Rwanda. The team included Shibu Anandarajan from Akay Flavours & Aromatics, J. Marie Munyaneza from NAEB, spices expert Dr. C.K. George, and SITA representatives from Geneva and Rwanda.
Commenting on the pilot scheme, Mr. Anandarajan said, “We have introduced different varieties of chillies with high demand in the international markets, offering better yields and returns to the farmers.
“The performance of the crop is satisfactory. The availability of fertile land, water for irrigation and the young farming community are major strengths of our chilli cultivation project. However, the shortage of funds to buy fertilizers and other farm inputs, and the lack of facilities to dry and store chillies are major challenges faced by the farmers,” he added.
In addition to visiting the eight sites where the chilli trials are conducted, the team organized training sessions on good agricultural practices for chilli production for the farmers. The sessions, led by Dr. C.K. George, covered a variety of topics, from establishing nurseries to raise seedlings, to preparing the main field, planting, applying fertilizer, mulching, controlling diseases and pests, flowering, and harvesting. Mr. Anandarajan elaborated on the agricultural practices followed in India for chilli production, and the theoretical session was followed by a practical demonstration at Dieudonné Twahirwa’s farm, one of the participants in the pilot project.
Training sessions were also organized covering on-farm drying of chilli and packaging practices for scientific chilli production; challenges in hybrid chilli cultivation; pricing of dried and graded chilli; strategies for procurement; logistics; export documentation; and payment.
“The training programmes and field demonstrations have informed farmers on scientific cultivation, harvesting and post harvest practices for chilli and the quality standards that apply when exporting chilli to international markets,” Mr. Anandarajan said. “We believe that there is good potential for hybrid chilli cultivation in Rwanda. It will help generate more employment opportunities for youth and women and will improve their socio-economic conditions. It will also help Akay Flavours & Aromatics buy ‘pesticide regulated chilli’ at competitive prices to meet our growing demand for chilli in the future.”
“The recent mission gave Rwandan chilli farmers new hope by providing theoretical and practical training, and most importantly, by guaranteeing a reliable market through Akay Flavours & Aromatics” Giscard Tuyishime and Dieudonné Twahirwa, two farmers participating in the pilot scheme, said in a joint report on the progress of the project.
According to Mr. Tuyishime and Mr. Twahirwa, with the training and hands-on experience, farmers are now confident they can produce a good quantity and quality of chilli. “While there are areas to improve upon such as fertilizer application, and disease and pest control, farmers are encouraged by their access to a reliable market and are willing to produce at any cost,” they said.
For farmers to overcome their shortage of funds to buy good quality fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and irrigation equipment, “a formal farming agreement with the buyer may help farmers source funds from financial institutions so as to ensure a high quantity and quality of produce,” Mr. Tuyishime and Mr. Twahirwa suggested.
Commenting on SITA’s support, the duo said, “We really appreciate the support given by SITA to link us to a reliable market, as this was the major challenge, and also in improving our skills in the chilli value chain.”
“We will address the sustainability challenges in the cultivation of new varieties of chillies, and aim to facilitate their cultivation on a large scale in Rwanda, with the help of SITA. We appreciate the support of the SITA team in developing this project and look forward to the success of the trial plots,” Mr. Anandarajan said in concluding his remarks.