On the winding road between Kigali and the DRC border, behind the unassuming gates of a compound in Rulindo, a new technology is on the verge of revolutionising pineapple production to benefit poor and vulnerable farmers.
Shekina Enterprises, a medium-sized company set up in 2007 by Damien Mbatezimana, has its sights set on the export markets of Europe, Canada, and the USA. Already exporting dried vegetables, Shekina is expanding into dried pineapple.
Two years ago this would have been impossible but together, Oxfam, the National Agricultural Exports Board (NAEB) and the Belgian Technical Cooperation, have developed a new drying technology unique to Rwanda.
Damien explains, “Oxfam were interested in finding export markets for dried fruit produced by small-scale farmers and asked if we could work together. It’s difficult to find new technology in Rwanda. I had to design and build my own driers and while they were good for vegetables they didn’t work well for fruit.”
“When Oxfam got in touch I’d been having a lot of difficulties. I was just about to give up. Wherever I sent my dried fruit samples they’d tell me the quality wasn’t good enough.”
“Oxfam did a study of the technology needed for drying fruit. We went to South Africa to find a company called Dryers for Africa and found they were making what we needed but powered by electricity. We asked them to make a modified version as electricity in Rwanda is very costly so wouldn’t be viable. Together we designed a new drier.”
Oxfam analyses agricultural value-chains to find ways of adding value and linking small-scale producers with Rwanda’s private sector companies. Working with experts in post-harvest technology and product development, Oxfam supported Shekina Enterprises with business planning, development and market identification, and linked them with poor and vulnerable women farmers from the local area.
Damien’s business currently employs 105 people, 75% of whom are women. Once he has found his export markets he plans to apply for bank loans to buy up to four more driers so he can expand to work with several hundred pineapple producers.
Damien explains, “What Oxfam are trying to do is create a market for small-scale farmers. When farmers in this area produce pineapples they don’t have a market to sell to. I saw that vegetables and fruit don’t have any added value in this country. I could really see a way I could add value. I can make a profit and my farmers can also profit from the new technology we’ve developed.”
Oxfam is also working with partner Duterimbere IMF to develop a financial leasing product so other companies and co-operatives can also start using the driers within the Rwandan market.