Profit-making idea: Growing high-value, niche vegetables in Rwanda for the export market

The topography of Rwanda does not lend itself to large, expansive farms for crop cultivation. Yet, Laurent Demuynck, founder and CEO of Kigali Farms, says the country is ideal for the cultivation of certain high-value vegetables and fruits for export to other East African nations.

“I believe there is a future for good quality, organic and intensive horticulture in Rwanda,” he notes. “Owing to its proximity to Kenya – where there is a lot of purchasing power – I think it is a great business idea to set up the production of high-value crops.”

Demuynck’s company cultivates various types of mushrooms for local sales to the Rwandan market, but also to a large customer base in Kenya. It recently invested in refrigerated containers for road freight to ensure an unbroken cold chain to Kenyan retailers.

“In terms of the product, it would likely be something like speciality or niche vegetables that you cannot find on the shelves, not even Nairobi,” says Demuynck. “Produce you can sell for a decent price because it is not yet a commodity product and you won’t have too much competition.”

He adds one consideration is whether the intended product can grow in the local climate. “The starting point, however, should always be meeting a market need. You have to look at the market first, to see what you would be able to sell.”

Market research is not always easy, especially when the proposed product does not yet exist. Demuynck learnt this lesson when trying to find funders for his commercial button mushroom farm in northern Rwanda. “I was talking to a boardroom full of bankers at one time when I realised not a single person in the room had ever seen a button mushroom. Here I was asking for $500,000 to set up a farm,” he recalls. He resorted to buying punnets of mushrooms in Europe to show in his meetings.

According to Rwanda’s National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB), the country boasts comparative advantages in horticulture such as a favourable climate; diversified agro-climatic conditions including high, medium and low altitude; fertile soils and abundant water resources.

Some of the products the NAEB highlights as viable options for horticulture in Rwanda are macadamia nuts, avocados, mango, citrus, onions, French beans, chillies and carrots.