Chili harvest season in Rwanda: how SITA is changing the lives of smallholder farmers through supporting agripreneurs to grow chili

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  • SITA has been working with the Government of Rwanda and Indian partners to develop Rwanda’s spices sector, focusing on hyprid chili in particular as high value cash crop.
  • Chili harvesting season in Rwanda is currently in full swing. To date, SITA has supported and coached 815 farmers to grow chili, including Christine Rukera whose potential was spotted when she participated in SITA’s Mitreeki training programme for women-owned agribusinesses.
  • In this innovative approach to driving sustainable development, SITA has mitigated the risks these farmers would normally encounter when making the shift to a new crop through facilitating buy-back arrangements with Indian spices companies.

Meet Christine

Christine Rukera is a Rwandan smallholder farmer. This is her first year growing premium chili. She has recently taken her Teja and Namdhari chili seedlings from her chili nursery to the main field. Christine’s chili already has a buyer – an Indian company – and with the help of her 4,506 workers (mostly women) she expects to harvest 75 metric tons of chili by the end of October.

Why is SITA supporting farmers like Christine to grow hybrid chili?

Chili is a clean label ingredient, the demand for which is increasing as consumers seek foods with simple, wholesome ingredients they know and trust. Once processed in India, Christine’s chili will be used to colour and flavour products in the food and beverage industry across the world. Processed chili has uses in other industries too, for example it can be used in nutraceuticals or pharmaceuticals.

Unlike traditional cash crops (like tomatoes, maize, casava and beans) chili’s different uses across industries and geographies means its price is less volatile. What’s more, this price is also a relatively high one – thanks to the high market value of many of the end-products chili is used for. Growing chili therefore translates into more predictable working environment for farmers and their workers, not to mention higher incomes for all.

As a case in point, Christine’s positive developments are in spite of COVID-19 disruption. The current pandemic has caused dramatic price fluctuations for many cash crops. By contrast, chili harvesting in Rwanda is in full swing this month and Christine says: “despite the hurdles we’ve been through with coronavirus, I am not under stress – I am really happy and looking forward to seeing the crop.”  

In the case of Rwanda, premium chili is a particularly good fit for crop rotation and export diversification: the country’s distance from a seaport means it only makes ‘business sense’ to export high value goods that are also light in weight. Chili is. Most importantly, it grows well in Rwanda’s agro-climatic conditions. SITA identified the potential of high-value hybrid chili in Rwanda in 2015. However, farmers’ efforts to diversify are subject to two major barriers: securing a buyer and developing their know-how and confidence.

What are SITA doing?

SITA has been working with the Government of Rwanda (via the National Agriculture Export Development Board; NAEB) and Indian partners to develop Rwanda’s spices sector. How? By de-risking export diversification for farmers like Christine: bringing the buyer directly to them through a buyback arrangement. This setup means the farmer receives a guaranteed fair price for their produce, and one that is internationally competitive. The farmer also receives technical guidance and expertise from both SITA and the Indian buyer.

SITA has supported Christine in a variety of ways: coaching her in chili-farming, matchmaking her with the Indian buyer, and supporting their relationship development. Christine also says she feels less alone with SITA support.

The case of Christine

Though Christine has only recently started growing chili, her relationship with SITA goes back some way. Christine was initially part of SITA’s Mitreeki’s Agro-processor Advancement Programme in 2019, which delivered trainings to women-owned agribusinesses on technical skills and financial management over the course of three months. Noting her significant potential to develop as a business woman, Mitreeki supported Christine to attend the World Export Development Forum (WEDF) – ITC’s flagship forum, held in Addis Ababa in November 2019.

At number of experts from ITC spoke with Christine at WEDF. They proceeded to match her up with potential Indian spice companies and facilitate the B2B meetings. From there, Christine began discussions with Indian buyers for a buyback arrangement in chili. Christine’s chili farming has since gone from strength-to-strength.

She will continue to grow chili for the same company in the upcoming season (December 2020 – August 2021) at the increased land (50 ha compared to the current year 30 Ha)

The bigger picture

There are now five SITA-supported Indian companies in buyback arrangements in Rwanda, one of which is doing organic cultivation of chili. What started off as a four-hectare pilot in 2016 with only one Indian buyer has grown to 104 hectares in 2019, and around 200 hectares in 2020. 815 chili farmers have been reached as a result, with 21,769 casual farmers engaged between December 2019 and now (September 2020).

SITA is carrying out other value addition initiatives with other spices across five East African countries. These include rosemary, ginger, garlic and cardamom cultivation in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda.

As it stands, the spices are shipped to India to be processed, where more value is added as they are transformed into ingredients for wholesale. Looking ahead, if agro-processing of East African-grown spices can take place in East Africa, it will allow entrepreneurs like Christine to add even more value to their crops before selling overseas. In-country processing will be possible once a minimum level of production is reached. This value addition step would mean even higher revenues for exporting companies, even less vulnerability to sharp swings in prices, and even more jobs with decent incomes for East Africans.

Voices of SITA
Voices of SITA
This blog provides a window into the SITA project. Through stories from India, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania, this blog showcases the project’s progress and impact.