KIGALI, 27 February 2021 – Coffee and chili farmers in Rwanda say their exports to China have grown exponentially and could expand more, a special report in The Africa Report highlights.
The spike in coffee and chili exports has been attributed to deals sealed between China and Rwanda in 2017 and 2018.
China’s richest man and founder of Alibaba Group, Jack Ma, jetted to Kigali twice in 2017 to adance the prospects of Rwandan entrepreneurs accessing the Chinese market.
After meetings with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Ma signed an agreement, making Rwanda the first African country to join Alibaba’s Electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP).
The next year during a September 2018 visit to Rwanda by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the two countries signed anagreement worth $100 million to expand farm exports.
On the sidelines of the trip by Xi Jinping, Twahirwa sealed a deal with China’s Chinese GK, International Enterprises to supply 50,000m of chili annually for five years. Twahirwa calls the deal life-changing.
“The Chinese market is quite unique when compared to the rest because they accept a wide range of goods without big complications,” Twahirwa told The Africa Report.
The deal provided the funding Twahirwa needed to expand his farm, from six hectares to 160 hectares, to employ more farm workers and to invest in better fertilizers and seeds.
Coffee farmers have seen a spike in their exports to China as well.
“I have sold coffee to China through the electronic platform five times now and it all gets finished and I got paid instantly,” Simeon Ngendahayo, manager of West Hills Coffee, told The Africa Report.
“Selling coffee in China was not easy at first. The market seemed quite closed to our products, so I was focusing on European and some Asian markets. This all changed when Rwanda joined the eWTP,” Ngendahayo said.
Training to enable farmers to trade online with China and other countries is in hot demand and has proved to be a game changer.
The Rwandan Private Sector Federation (PSF) now regularly conducts training sessions for exporters to ensure they make products that meet Chinese standards.
“We are seeing a surge in traders and farmers willing to be facilitated to access the market in China,” the PSF’s Théoneste Ntagengerwa told The Africa Report.
The West Hills Coffee manager admitted that the onus is now really on Rwandan coffee farmers “to ensure a steady supply and quality” of the product which is in high demand.
Twahirwa is looking to the next phase of his project which includes limiting waste, improving post-harvest management of the produce and ensuring supply in all seasons.
He is hopeful that the governments of China and Rwanda will sign a protocol to allow exports of dry chili from Rwanda to China..
“Once this… is secured, it will improve our business tremendously,” Twahirwa told The Africa Report.
In May 2020, the Rwandan government said that when they placed 1.5 million tons of Rwandan coffee for sale on the eWTP, the entire thing sold out “in seconds”.
Rwanda is also buying more China. In 2019, Rwandan imports from China skyrocketed in value to $628 million from $157m in 2017.
Seventy percent of Rwanda’s population depends on agriculture for their livelihood.
The sector accounts for 90 percent of the country’s food needs, 39 percent of Rwanda’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 72 percent of employment.