Encouraging innovation: Spicing up Rwanda’s exports

With innovative products such as chili pepper oil and plantain wine, a Rwandan agri-processing enterprise is gaining global attention.

In Rwanda, farmers are supplying Urwibutso Enterprise with chili for processing into chili pepper oil for global export © Zoonar GmbH/Alamy Stock Photo

Rwandan entrepreneur, Sina Gerard, set up a small shop in the Rulindo district of north-east Rwanda in 1983, selling fresh and baked goods produced on his family farm. Ten years later, after saving enough from this initial enterprise, he registered his own agri-processing company called Urwibutso – meaning ‘something to remember’ in tribute to the baked doughnuts he used to sell. Today, the company employs 280 full-time staff and works with over 3,000 local farmers who supply the company with produce for processing.

Urwibutso’s centrepiece is ‘Akabanga’ – a chili pepper oil that is sold throughout Rwanda and has gained global attention, with export of the product beginning in 2003. The company produces 127 t of Akabanga annually, 15% of which is sold to export markets. Kenya and Uganda comprise the product’s main export markets within Africa, while exports outside of the continent are shipped primarily to Europe and the Middle East.

Aside from chili pepper oil, Urwibutso has significantly diversified its output, establishing commercial production of cereal-based flour, yoghurt, packaged peanuts, and banana and plantain wine. The entrepreneur’s push for innovation has also encouraged local farmers to diversify their crops, producing non-staples such as apples, grapes and strawberries, which Urwibutso uses for processing – providing a stable market that helps to stimulate the local agricultural economy. Currently, the company is working on concentrated juice for the European market, Gerard explains.

Urwibutso provides local farmers with free seeds, fertiliser and training in best agricultural practices, through five full-time agronomists employed by the company. “I work with all the farmers in this village. I make a profit out of their sweat, so I had to find a way of giving back to them,” says Gerard.

Aimable Twahirwa

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.