Rwanda is to start export of gentian (often blue) flowers from its Japanese-owned firm, Bloom Hills Rwanda, on 4-hectare piece of land in Nyacyonga marshland in Kigali City, but expects to expand the project by growing other varieties such as white or pink gentians.
According to Yoshiyuki Sato, the founder and chairman of Bloom Hills, the first flower shipment to Europe, worth €400,000 (Rwf406 million), is expected within two weeks, while the main exports from the project, which is supported by Hachimantai city in Japan, start in November.
The announcement by Bloom Hills is great news for Rwanda’s nascent flower export sector which has experienced a bad run over the past few years.
Flower growing is one of the areas Rwanda earmarked as “quick win” sectors over six years ago as the country sought to ramp up its export revenues. The plan also aimed at weaning the country from flower imports that were worth millions of dollars. To attract investors into the sector, the government unveiled a raft of incentives for investors in agriculture, including value added tax refund, duty free on importation of equipment, capital gains tax exemption, and zero tax on corporate income tax for firms planning to relocate to Rwanda.
The country also wanted to capitalize on its excellent climate and good business environment as well as institutional support available for pioneer flower investors.
However, the area under flowers has been expanding at a slow pace over the past five years despite all this support to the young sector. That seems to be changing though. With new projects coming on online, Rwanda can now have a bigger slice of the flower export cake, bolster its prospects as a flower exporter, spur foreign earnings and create new jobs.
Sato says Rwanda’s soils are suitable for growing gentian flowers “due to a moderate and constant climate”.
The attractive investment climate and the clear policy of the government toward supporting the development of flower industry were the other pull factors for his firm.
“During our three years of experiences in Rwanda, I have witnessed the focus and determination of the government to build a flower industry. When we faced challenges like import permit, land leasing and airport cold-room handling, NAEB, RALIS and other authorities were always at hand to intervene help us and encourage us. Freight costs are now much affordable,” Sato explained.
The firm targets to export 430,000 stems per season to Amsterdam, in The Netherlands by 2020.
Japan is one of the top three countries that produce gentian flowers, and is the second-biggest consumer of the variety globally. Bloom Hills says the demand for gentian flowers goes high during the winter season, but there is always low supply, which the firm says is a huge opportunity for Rwanda to seize.
Supporting Made-in-Rwanda initiative
Dr. Geraldine Mukeshimana, the Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources is optimistic that the gentian flower exports to Europe will contribute immensely to efforts geared at increasing foreign exchange earnings under the Made-in-Rwanda initiative.
She said horticulture products, including flowers, are now key contributors to Rwanda’s export receipts. Horticulture exports raked in $13.1 million (about Rwf11.3 billion) between July 2017 and January 2018, up from $7.15 million (Rwf6.1 billion) the previous year, according to figures from the National Agriculture Export Development Board (NAEB).
“I am happy that we have passed the test and the flowers will now be exported to Europe as a Made-in-Rwanda product,” she said.
She is buoyant that the initiative will greatly impact the sector, adding that it will ensure technology transfer and also create new jobs along the value chain.
The Bloom Hills project already employs 50 Rwandans, with more jobs expected to be created when it expands next year.
Flower exports have been mainly by Bella Flowers, a government firm whose flagship is Gishari Flower Park, a 100-hectare project in Rwamagana District. Bella has expanded to 40 hectares, from the initial 35 hectares and exported 13 million flower stems to Europe, while 5.15 million stems of cut roses were sold on the local market.
The firm started exports of cut roses during the third quarter of 2016. Rwanda exported 350,396 kilogrammes of flowers worth over $1.9 million (about Rwf1.6 billion) between July 2017 and January 2018, a huge rise from 40,205 kilos or $191,958 (Rwf166.2 million) during a similar period previous year, according to new NAEB agro-exports report for January 2018.