Published Sunday , on 3 September 2017, 19:43:21 by Christophe Hitayezu

Emmanuel Hafashimana, a pineapple farmer from Kirehe District, Eastern Province, Rwanda, remembers when a pineapple weighing three kilogrammes used to cost Rwf50, leaving farmers without tangible gains from their investments.

Realising that the farmers’ produce was being sold at a giveaway price, and some pineapples were getting rotten in stores due to lack of ready buyers, a cooperative was formed by pineapple farmers in Kirehe District, called Tuzamurane, which means, ‘let’s partner to develop’,— with the intention to look for a favourable market for their produce.

The cooperative, which operates from Gahara Sector, has 133 members cultivating organic pineapple on about 90 hectares.

The initiative helped increase the price of a kilogramme of pineapple to Rwf130, which means that a three-kilogramme pineapple now costs Rwf390 from the mere Rwf50.

Most importantly, the cooperative set up a pineapple processing unit. It bought equipment to dry fresh pineapples, and it exports the packaged dried commodities to France. The product has a shelf life of one year.

That move added value to the fruit, with a kilogramme costing about Rwf13,000 ($15), Sylvestre Barajiginywa told Sunday Times.

Barajiginywa showing how packaged pineapple is opened for consumption purposes, in Kigali on Thursday. /TNT

Pineapple processing and exports

The cooperative first began producing dried pineapples in 2003 and began exporting them in 2005. Then its exports were estimated to 2.5 tonnes per year, Barajiginywa said.

Currently, Barajiginywa revealed that the cooperative’s dried fruit exports grew to two tonnes per month, earning it revenues amounting to over $360,000 per year, or Rwf300 million.

“Our area [Kirehe District] is appropriate for pineapples. They used to rot opr sold at a giveaway price because there were few buyers. But, thanks to the cooperative’s value addition initiative, farmers have a ready market for their produce for a good price, and we earn more from exports,” Barajiginywa said.

It takes 20kg of fresh raw pineapples to produce a kilo of dried pineapple, said the cooperative manager, who added that they need 40 tonnes of fresh pineapples per month.

In case farmers need money to meet a need such as paying school fees for their children, yet they have not yet harvested, Barajiginywa explained that the cooperative provides them with finance which they pay through supplying it equivalent produce, without any interest.

It also covers health insurance for its members and gives them dividends from profits made.

Tuzamurane Cooperative Manager, Sylvestre Barajiginywa, showing a package of dried pineapple. The cooperative processes pineapples and export dried pineapples to France. / TNT

Emmanuel Hafashimana, a father of two and one of the members, told Sunday Times that it also provides farmers with quality seedlings.

He owns about 35,000 pineapple plants on about 1.5-hectare-farmland. He noted that pineapple growing has improved his life.

“I constructed a house worth Rw3 million; bought a Rwf1.1 million motorbike, and my family has health insurance. In addition, I bought a Rwf600,000 solar-powered lighting system and now I can charge phone, power my television set, and radio and follow happenings in the country,” he said.

The cooperative’s growth plan

Talking about what the cooperative plans to do in the future, Barajiginywa noted that it wants to expand its activities to generate more revenues and further benefit its members’ welfare.

In December 2016, the cooperative expanded its acreage by about 20 hectares, and the grown pineapple seedlings will start giving yield in April, 2018. In December 2017, it wants to grow the fruit on additional 50 hectares.

“Our aim is to export 36 tonnes per year, meaning three tones monthly, by 2020,” he said.

As per a document on horticulture investment opportunities in Rwanda by NAEB, Rwanda targets to increase by more than tenfold its horticulture (fruits, vegetables and flower) from $11 million in 2013 to $120 million by 2018.

Reporting of E. Ntirenganya/TNT