Setting standards in Rwanda’s food industry

Laurent Demuynck has a passion for mushrooms. He calls them “the meat of the poor” because of their high nutritional value. As founder and CEO of Kigali Farms, a Kigali based mushroom processing company, he wants to see Africa catch up with the rest of the world when it comes to growing mushrooms. In fact, he has a vision that in 10 to 15 years, thousands of people in Africa, maybe hundreds of thousands, will be making an income from mushrooms.

Kigali Farms is one of 21 Rwandan food and agricultural companies that have recently benefited from global training, known as HACCP, that ensures standards in food safety are reached and maintained. HACCP, or Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point, is an effective tool to prevent biological, chemical and physical contamination of food, and should eventually lead to a company receiving widely accepted certification.

Funded in Rwanda by TradeMark Africa (TMA) and implemented by the British Standards Institution (BSI) in partnership with the Rwanda Standards Board (RSB), the HACCP training aims to provide safety in every part of the food chain from the farmer, to the processor, to the retailer, through to the final consumed product.

For the food producers of Rwanda, HACCP certification is one more step towards the coveted goal of exporting their products to the East African Community and beyond. Exports are critical to reducing Rwanda’s trade deficit, yet until recently it had limited scope to test products for mycotoxin (fungal infection) contamination. Instead, they were sent abroad, causing long delays in the supply chain.

Since 2011 TMA has been working with the RSB to put in place equipment and procedures that will not only allow Rwanda to test and certify its own products but also position itself as a regional hub for testing other countries’ products in a number of areas, including mycotoxins and essential oils.

“A key component of building the competitiveness of Rwandan companies is compliance to quality standards,” says Hannington Namara, TMA’s Rwanda Country Director. “The requirements of the market to regulate their own products means that the standards work becomes important.”

As part of its cooperation with the RSB, TMA funded vital laboratory testing equipment and then facilitated a twinning of the RSB with the BSI, so that Rwanda could learn from the BSI’s long experience in developing, promoting and maintaining standards. HACCP training is one result of this.

The Rwanda HACCP training took place from August 2013 until November 2014. Although international and regional consultants undertook the initial training, six local consultants were trained in the implementation of HACCP procedures, ensuring that future training for other interested companies can take place.

Shyam Gujadhur is a TMA funded international consultant leading the project. He says that of over 40 applicants for HACCP training, 24 were selected, of which 21 completed the capacity building programme.

“By July (2015),” he says, “we hope to have about 10 enterprises certified to HACCP and one to ISO 22000 (the global standard setting the requirements for an effective food safety management system). That is more than 50% of enterprises that completed the capacity building programme, which is a good impact”.

Further, with BSI support, the RSB will apply to be recognised as a certification body for HACCP. Gujadhur hopes that the RSB will be accredited by June 2016 at the latest, at which point they will be able to provide accredited certification services for HACCP, to Rwandan companies, giving them more export credibility. As a bonus they will also be able to offer the same to neighbouring countries.

“The demand from the Rwandan private sector for food safety management is there,” affirms Gujadhur, “as more than 150 participants attended the initial experience sharing workshops.” He noted that HACCP could also be applied to the hotel and catering industry. “If hotels and restaurants are certified to HACCP,” he says, “then it will give confidence to Rwanda’s developing tourism industry.”

As standards rise so do women farmers

Back at Kigali Farms Laurent Demuynck is confident. “If you want to export, HACCP certification is a mark of quality,” he says. “While the social objective of the company (Kigali Farms) is to improve nutrition locally, we also discovered that from a business point of view it’s important to reach out to foreign markets; so we can generate income locally and from the government’s perspective we can also generate export revenue.”

Thus HACCP certification will serve a dual purpose for Kigali Farms, in that the HACCP standard helps to improve their operations, which in turn increases their capacity to export. This is important, not only for the company, but also for the hundreds of mushroom growers who supply them.

Mushroom growing is traditionally suited to women, particularly those with smallholdings. It requires very little space, not much time and it is not physically demanding.

“It’s like a mini cash crop,” explains Demuynck, “It’s maybe half an hour a day and when harvesting comes (four times a year) it’s maybe one hour a day. On 50 sq. metres you can make a dollar a day, net,” he adds, “and it allows farmers to not have to change their whole business model.”

With HACCP certification Kigali Farms will be able to export their products to other East African countries and beyond. The extra markets will increase demand, which should have a knock on effect on the growers and ultimately, when replicated in other industries, on Rwanda’s economy.

Hannington Namara, TMA’s Rwanda country director is bullish about the future. “We need to scale up to all the sectors”, he says. “The competition from Europe is high. That’s where we’re heading”.