In order to achieve the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS2) and 2020 Vision’s objective to commercialize and diversify agriculture, the Government of Rwanda has been involved in promoting trade in different crops by creating a conducive environment to facilitate the export of these key agriculture products but also by ensuring Rwandan products get access to potentially lucrative foreign markets.
Honey for export
Previous reports on the honey sector have been for some time highlighting the export potential for Rwandan honey and other bee products. The quality of the Rwandan honey and wax was considered good and it was evident that it could meet the quality standards and specifications of foreign markets In this respect, honey was considered as one of the products to be promoted both regionally and internationally. In Rwanda, honey production has been considered for a long time as a past-time activity carried out by older men and in many respects has been neglected. Information on apiculture was scattered and most of what was available amongst various sector stakeholders were merely assumptions due to the lack of data and a well-defined monitoring and evaluation system.
In the recent past, however, apiculture (the rearing of bees for commercial purposes), has been brought to the forefront, playing an increasingly significant role in transforming the lives of former gatherers of honey at a very small scale into farmers complying to national and international standards at every level in the production chain towards export.
“Although the government puts in a lot of efforts together with various NGOs and other private stakeholders towards the improvement of the production and quality of honey in Rwanda, the country was unable to access the lucrative European Union’s [EU] market because Rwanda was not on the list of third countries allowed to export animal products into the EU. For countries outside the EU it is impossible to import or export any animal products into the EU unless it develops and implements a Honey Residue Monitoring Plan that has been approved by the EU authorities,” notes Beatrice Uwumukiza, the Rwanda Agriculture and Livestock Inspection and Certification Services (RALIS) Coordinator, under the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources.
The next step for Rwanda was therefore to comply with the EU market’s requirements based on the completion of a Sanitary Phyto-Sanitary (SPS) assessment on Rwandan honey samples demonstrating the quality and good hygiene status of the Rwandan honey.
MINAGRI/RALIS and TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) decided last year to team up and go through this complex process of getting Rwanda featured in the list of third countries allowed to export honey to EU together with beekeepers and processing plants owners.
TMEA, MINAGRI boost beekeepers’ capacities
TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) is a not for profit organization funded by a range of development agencies with the aim of growing prosperity in East Africa through trade. TMEA has offices in all five States of the East African Community (EAC) including Rwanda and seeks to increase trade by unlocking economic potential with the objective of reducing poverty in the region and subsequently growing East Africans’ prosperity.
It is under its mandate in Rwanda that TMEA is funding a series of interventions aiming at developing export capacity of Rwanda’s private sector both to the EAC region but also to other markets. “Supporting exports is part of TMEA priorities as it relates to one of our flagship pillars of interventions aiming at Improving Business Competitiveness. It is under this framework that we are working with the Government of Rwanda to ensure that Rwanda’s exports meet both regional and international standards and access new markets” notes John Bosco Kalisa TMEA Senior Programme Manager.
“The Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary (SPS) issues have been highlighted as one of the key constraints for Rwanda to access international markets and we have already done an assessment in key potential sectors that Rwanda has both comparative and competitive advantages such as meat production and honey”, Kalisa adds. Supporting export of Rwanda’s honey hence became a priority on everyone’s agenda.
In this context, TMEA decided to support MINAGRI/RALIS implementing their honey export programme through technical assistance. MINAGRI has been responsible for the programming and execution of the entire project. They started with establishing and implementing appropriate sampling techniques on the basis of clear criteria and sampling methodology. They subsequently organized the residues testing and related residues control activities while putting in place a “Honey Working Group” that helped organize activities and assisted the consultant hired by TMEA to develop the Honey Residue
All activities organized by the Ministry were in line with the EU import requirements, including inspections and audits of processing establishments in the honey production chain, efficient transportation of samples and improvement in the countries’ testing capacity consistent with the official testing requirements.
Special focus was directed on residue controls including the activities performed by the authority at programming, planning and execution levels, taking into account export and production practices throughout the food chain. After months of research, the results of the samples testing were clear: Rwanda’s honey was compliant with EU’s food safety requirements and in June 2014 Rwanda was added to the list of countries allowed to export honey to EU.
Farmers have hope that with support from the Directorate in partnership with TMEA, accessing high value markets is not far from their reach. Juvenile Ndayisenga, resident of Rugunga Village, Kagarama sector in Kicukiro district, a honey processor and managing Director of Bio-Horticultural and Apicultural Products (HAP), says they have been supported to attend international agri-shows and supported to process quality honey acceptable to European standards.
“Samples of honey from HAP have been taken to Europe for testing the quality and establish the standard. But with the control systems we have put in the employ, we are certain of penetrating that high-end market,” he enthuses.
It also seems that the international demand for honey is likely to increase in the coming decades. “Recent trends promoting healthier living promote the use of honey in tea, instead of refined sugar could increase not only international demand but local demand as well,” observes MINAGRI/RALIS’ Coordinator. This could represent huge business opportunities for Rwanda’s honey private sector!
Increasing Rwanda’s honey exports is obviously part of a bigger plan that the government is actively striving to achieve. Recent findings on Rwanda trade with the EAC show that the EAC Customs Union has generated trade benefits to all EAC partner states as intra-EAC exports have increased from US $
1,288 million in 2005 to US $ 2,746.9 million in 2013 which is equivalent to 113 % increase.
Despite these improvements in trade performance, Rwanda continues to face a 4:1 imbalance in trade flaws which means it imports 4 times more than it exports. It is hence critical for Rwanda to continuously increase its exports and ensure its products access foreign markets such as the EU’s to help reduce the country’s trade imbalance but also to grow Rwandan private sector prosperity through trade!