Eugene Mukeshimana is a Chili pepper farmer in Bugesera district in Eastern Province. He attended Youth Konnekt – a youth forum that was also given the opportunity to follow and participate in a call-in session at the ongoing National Dialogue Council (Umushyikirano) which kicked off today, December 19 in the capital Kigali.
A graduate of Electronics and Telecommunication, Mukeshimana probably had the best of the first day of this year’s two-day event that is chaired by President Paul Kagame.
A young man aspiring to venture into agriculture, Mukeshimana joined his three other colleagues to start a Chili pepper farming with a purpose of exporting it.
The four young farmers registered a Chili pepper farming company in Bugesera district.
The young farmers had one mission; to improve the quality of Chili for export. They benefitted from a partnership with Alibaba – a Chinese billionaire’s initiative with Government of Rwanda to help Rwandans to access markets through exports.
In June last year, Mukeshimana and colleagues started a Chili farming project in the district. By February this year, they saw their first harvest – with a peak harvest of between 1.5 and 2 tons of Chili per week.
By August this year, Mukeshimana and colleagues had made a step forward. They had started processing Chili for export. A month before, they signed a deal to start exporting Chili to one of European countries.
But within their first harvest, Mukeshimana and his colleagues were facing harsh challenges including research and development centers as well as costly hybrid seeds.
Most seedlings are imported. For instance, according to Mukeshimana, the package of hot-chili seeds that can be planted on a hectare of land costs Rwf900, 000.
Another hybrid variety, said the young farmer, is even more costly. According to Mukeshimana, a kilogram of bird eye chili costs Rwf3.5 million.
“These are high costs for us as farmers. We wish that if the government could establish a research and development centers that produce hybrid seeds, it can be a game-changer for us and hence contribute to the country’s GDP,” Mukeshimana appealed to President Paul Kagame.
The other biggest challenge, Mukeshimana said, is “lack of storage facilities. This affects the quality of our products once exported. A case was in July this year when our company lost Rwf800, 000 due to lack of storage facilities that affected the quality of our Chili. We lost a ton of Chili and we are still suffering the impact of this loss. Your excellency, as you are bringing us an International Airport in Bugesera, also provide us a storage facility,” Mukeshimana said.
The moderator asked Agriculture Minister Dr Geraldine Mukeshimana to intervene and address the issue. However, Eugene Mukeshimana and his colleagues seemed to be far from getting the answer.
First, the Minister said that currently, Rwanda does not have a centre that produces hybrid Chili seeds. She said the Ministry is welcoming technology companies to help establish research and development centers.
On the issue of storage facilities, the Minister admitted that Bugesera does not have any, and did not specify when farmers like Mukeshimana would ever get the facility. She only promised that just like government is constructing an airport, storage facilities will be installed at the airport, she said – referring Mukeshimana and colleagues to use storage facilities at the National Agriculture Export Board (NAEB) and Kigali International airport.
But President Kagame was not satisfied. First, he said he could not understand how the Ministry and its stakeholders failed to provide enough facilities and solve the issue of research centers.
“That shows that we are not doing our best. You should give more answers to those questions, Minister and that farmer should be compensated for the loss they incurred,” the President directed amid applause from the audience.
Chili farming has become a lucrative business to Rwandan farmers.
In September this year, Dieudonné (Diego) Twahirwa – a young local entrepreneur specializing in Chili pepper farming signed a $500 million deal with a Chinese firm to supply dry chilli in the next five years.
Dieudonné (Diego) Twahirwa, the owner of Gashora farm, signed a five year agreement worth $100Million with Chinese GK International Enterprises Company Limited to supply 50,000 metric tons Chill, annually.
With the availability of several more storage facilities and research centers, Rwandan Chili pepper farmers could become like Twahirwa.