Accessing Global Markets: Rwanda’s Game-plan in Getting Standards Right

February 3, 2020
Diego Twahirwa - Chilli exporter

Accessing Global Markets: Rwanda’s Game-plan in Getting Standards Right


How can Rwanda get more of its domestic products to international markets?

A key element in achieving this goal requires applying rigorous requirements to food, animal and plant exports, known as Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures set by importing countries to address food safety, animal health and plant health risks that may be carried by traded products. Working with the Rwanda government, TradeMark East Africa’s (TMEA) Standards, Technical Regulations and SPS Measures project continues to support interventions that will enable Rwanda producers to meet these rigorous requirements. On the one hand, the TMEA interventions support regulatory bodies to improve their capabilities and authority to implement requirements to access export markets through acquisition of modern laboratory equipment building inspection capacities and automating trade processes to reduce costs and time involved in certifying products. On the other hand, the interventions focus on private sector by training of value chain players from farmers to pack houses to exporters, to ensure quality and safety is adhered to from the farm gate. Combined, this is contributing to reduction of standards related barriers to trade and rejection of Rwanda’s agricultural exports due to SPS concerns.

Improving Businesses

Diego Twahirwa an exporter in Rwanda knows too well the losses that follow non-compliance to SPS measures. The thirty-one-year-old businessman is the founder and owner of Gashora Farms, a leading chili export firm based in Bugesera District. In September 2019, he signed a five-year agreement with a Chinese firm – GK International Enterprises – to supply 50,000 tonnes of dry Chili every year. He recounts, “Initially, I was exporting through an individual as I was just a chili outgrower. Eventually I set up my own company but during my first export process, the buyer rejected my container of dry chili worth USD 30,000, because the chili product had residues of pesticides used for coffee. I was collecting my product from individual outgrowers or organized cooperatives and it is difficult to control the quality and safety of the product because most cooperatives simply act as collection centers. At that time, few were trained in pesticide control, harvest and storage practices and had little to no safety and quality assurance.” Diego sees a bright future with TMEA’s interventions that cut across the value chain including adequate training and certification processes for producers. The installation and use of modern laboratory equipment and capacity training being conducted will mean exporters like him have much better options.
According to Beatrice Uwumukiza Rwanda Agricultural Livestock Inspection and Certification Services ( RALIS) Director General, “RALIS is keen to improve on our service delivery model with a commitment to ensure not only consumer safety but improved trade facilitation.”

Localising Certification Processes

During phase 1 (2010-2017) TMEA supported Rwanda Standards Board (RSB), the key regulatory body for standards to obtain modern laboratory equipment and train personnel. This enhanced RSB’s ability in providing testing and certification services to local industries, therefore minimizing the need for producers to send samples of their exports abroad for testing, which was a costly and time-consuming process. Now, RSB provides product and system certification for Quality, Environment, and Food Safety & Quality Management Systems and has moved on to certify 46 companies who can now export to international markets. Local producers can tell the difference, the cost of acquiring the certification has reduced. A sample case of Inyange Industries shows that it cost US$ 5,500 to obtain management systems certification from Europe where they had to ship samples, and that it now costs them USD 1,972 to get the certification from the Rwanda Standards Board (RSB), a 64% reduction in system certification acquisition. The cost reduction excludes air tickets and hotel accommodation. RSB reduced testing time from 60 days in 2012 to 8 days in 2014 and the testing cost from US$ 500 to US$250, a 50% cost reduction in the programme.

To build on the successes of phase 1, TMEA rolled out a multi-agency project that includes Rwanda Standards Board (RSB), Rwanda Agriculture and Livestock Inspection and Certification Services (RALIS) and National Agricultural Export Board (NAEB), to be implemented between 2017 and 2022. The current project is building on structural success to include implementation of good agricultural and manufacturing practices by training smallholder farmers, pack houses, feed millers and feed transporters to adhere to international SPS requirements for locally produced agricultural products. The results are emerging. As an example, Diego’s export business has improved in terms of the coordination between the three government agencies and other stakeholders, thus reducing transaction time and costs. Training domestic farmers to produce for export markets with strict standards and SPS requirements has also contributed to more reliable relationships between exporters and farming cooperatives.

Localising international certification
Exporters dealing with agricultural products face high certification costs when they must acquire international certificates. TMEA is working with NAEB, which plays a catalytic role in Rwanda’s agricultural exports, to encourage international certifying bodies to invest in and open shop in Rwanda and impart SPS certification skills to local experts. Eric Ruganintwali is the Quality Assurance & Regulatory Division Manager at NAEB. He says, “One of the main reasons for poor SPS compliance amongst producers in Rwanda is due to inadequate service provision to offer certification in the agriculture sector.” Indeed, according to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Rwandan traders experienced significant interceptions of their products at the European Union markets over the last three years – three interceptions in 2016, twelve in 2017 and eleven in 2018. Eric presents economic context on the importance of localizing certification for agriculture products. “Over 70% of Rwandans are employed in agriculture. In addition to this, SMEs employ 97% of the workforce. It was important for us to find ways in which we could localize the SPS certification process and increase exports that met international standards.”

A Promising Future

Rwanda is investing in SPS Compliance infrastructure that makes export of its traditional and emerging commodities easier. From coffee, tea, sericulture (cultivation of silkworms) to horticultural commodities, compliance with SPS requirements and internationally driven market standards are requisites for export of these commodities.
Rwandair is opening new routes on a regular basis. The newly opened Dubai Ports World Kigali Logistics Platform, where TMEA played a catalytic role in providing transaction advisory services that attracted the investors, enables Rwanda to connect a market of more than 1.2 billion consumers in Africa and beyond, and positions Rwanda to become a hub for exports from the region.
The Standards and SPS programme is not only having an impact at the bottom of the pyramid by helping farmers reduce losses, but also facilitating traders and exporters to access high value export markets by complying with SPS requirements and standards. Ultimately this will lead to increasing sustainable incomes and creating jobs. The goal is that by 2023, at least forty (40) enterprises including SMEs will comply with ISO 22000.

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