Two weeks went by so fast. Although our stay in Rwanda was short, through our daily interactions and engagement with the people, we experienced the genuine kindness and hospitality of Rwandans. Moreover, whether it was Ikirezi staff, a farmer, a survey respondent, an official and/or business professional, people demonstrated a sense of dignity, unity and community - all working toward a better future. In short, Rwanda was a “Beautiful country with beautiful people.”
Through our final research analysis and findings, we hope to enable Ikirezi to more effectively move forward and advance their mission of holistically transforming communities throughout the country. In the meantime, below are our lessons and reflections through photos.
Sam, the Operations Manager for Ikirezi, helped facilitate and interpret during our focus group discussion with the farmers. Their sense of community and humanity conveyed could be summarized in one word - UBUNTU, a belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.
Resilience in rebuilding livelihoods
Farmer pictured transporting heavy load during long daily commutes. With their resilience, many Rwandan farmers have been able to overcome challenges and improve their lives.
Leadership and accountability
Ikirezi staff and many others from the business community demonstrated true commitment to leadership and accountability.
Hospitality and Service
All the hotels that hosted us during our research field work had excellent services, especially the Heaven Hotel in Kigali (a few staff pictured in photo above). This is evidence of Rwanda’s growing hospitality sector.
Celebrating the Rwandan culture and people
Giving is an important part of the Rwandan culture-especially giving of oneself. The Ikirezi staff graciously gave us their time, trust and well informed insights. Gifts are also important in the culture. The SMART team (pictured above with some Ikirezi staff overlooking Kigali) enjoyed and appreciated the laptop cases made with African fabrics, from the Ikirezi staff!
For now, Murakoze (Thank you!) and Mubabeho (Farewell) to the people from the "Land of a 1,000 hills"!
Back to Kigali , back to business.
In Kigali, the team ended the data collection process right where it had started--with Ikirezi. Following an intense data collection trip around the country, the team conducted the final in-depth interviews with Ikirezi staff and their partners in Kigali. These interviews provided further insight in understanding the opportunities and challenges for agri-businesses in Rwanda.
The first meeting was with the Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources, Dr. Gerardine Mukeshimana, who has extensive experience in the education, agriculture, and rural development sectors in Rwanda. She shared important policy insights on agri-business as outlined in ‘Vision 2020’, a government development program in Rwanda, launched in 2000 by Rwandan president Paul Kagame to transform the country into a “knowledge-based middle-income country." The Minister highlighted two key agricultural initiatives which are part of this broader national vision and policy.
First, Rwanda has placed great significance and importance to capacity building, especially captivating the youth’s interest in agricultural sciences and affairs. The team witnessed the youth energy when they met a group of agri-business advocates for dinner. Among this group was Dieudonne Twahirwa Diego, who is currently the Vice Chairman of the Rwanda Youth in Agribusiness Forum (RYAF). He provided excellent perspectives on youth engagement in agri-business.
Second, as one of the key pillars of building a diversified, integrated, competitive and dynamic economy, the Minister emphasized how the government is prioritizing the modernization of the agriculture sector as a key strategy for its development.
The team also met with Mr. Jean-Paul Musugi from Mobile Telephone Networks (MTN) Rwanda, to explore the role of mobile money in financing of agri-business operations domestically, regionally and internationally. Mr. Jean Paul, or JP as he prefers to be called, discussed the exciting future of mobile money in Rwanda.
Currently, MTN’s mobile money strategy not only offers traditional financial services of sending and receiving money but also has expanded to provide other services such as paying utility bills and sending and receiving remittances internationally. The security of such financial transactions are facilitated, regulated and guaranteed by the Central Bank of Rwanda. JP further emphasized MTN’s cooperation with local and international NGOs to promote financial inclusion of marginalized populations. While the team was in Rwanda, JP had already drafted an agreement for MTN to partner with Ikirezi on financial services for farmers.
All the meetings with Ikirezi’s current and potential partners really underscored the importance of collaboration throughout the agri-business value chain. Stay tuned for the lessons and reflections the team ‘took away’ from the overall research and development process in Rwanda.
After Cornell team’s visit to the production site, they began the data collection process. This part of the research sought to explore, understand and quantify the domestic market for essential oils. Following their initial meeting with Ikirezi staff, the team developed a survey questionnaire for collecting relevant data.
With a special focus on hotels, spas, and high-end supermarkets in touristic areas, the team hit the road on Thursday January 12th to collect data in the cities of Kigali, Musanze, Gisenyi, Huye, and Nyanza.
With a population of over 1 million people, Kigali is the largest city and serves as the capital of Rwanda. It is evident that it is also one of the fastest growing cities in Africa. Musanze is Rwanda's most mountainous district, containing the largest part of the Volcanoes National Park. Home to the mountain gorillas, Musanze is the most popular tourist destination in the country. Gisenyi is a resort town on the shore of Lake Kivu and borders Goma, the busy and lively town of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Huye, the former colonial capital of Rwanda, is famous today for its high number of college and university students.
The team visited hotels, spas, cosmetic shops, restaurants, and supermarkets conducting interviews with the managers and staff. These interviews provided an opportunity for the team members to observe the business culture of Rwanda. The country’s booming tourism sector was apparent by the number of new hotels in Gisenyi and Musanze. According to the Rwanda Development Board, the number of tourist arrivals in Rwanda has more than doubled since 2010 contributing to the country’s increased revenue.
The unique value chain of Ikirezi’s products was the leading factor that sparked tremendous interest in the product by the people surveyed. From Ikirezi’s work and engagement with farmers to improve their livelihoods to the quality of their Rwandan ‘branded’’ products, people were engaged and wanted to learn more. Moreover, findings from market research showed that the word of mouth was the most popular channel through which people learn about Ikirezi.
As we continued our journey from Musanze to Gisenyi, the team had opportunity to visit the border between Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). There was a striking difference on both sides of the border. On the one side, Rwanda seemed very organized with modern immigration systems. On the other hand, the DRC seemed to have a hectic and busy posture with less structured systems. .
After visiting our last destinations--Huye and Nyanza---the team arrived back in Kigali and began the data analysis process. The preliminary findings were presented to Ikirezi.
Is social entrepreneurship the best solution to challenges of international development? How does a community-interest agri-business impact farmers' lives in Rwanda?
With these questions in mind, our team set out to Kirehe - Ikirezi's farming and production site in eastern Rwanda. As we reached our destination, we saw a vibrant green field in front of us, and we were welcomed by Ikirezi's hardworking farmers. The sweet scent of natural oils was in the air.
Motivated by the values of community, sustainability, and cooperation, Ikirezi works with the most vulnerable families, to empower them and improve their livelihoods. At the Kirehe site, Ikirezi partners with two farmer cooperatives, which are comprised of more than 100 farmers. About 70 percent of farmers who work with Ikirezi are women.
In Kirehe, the team had an opportunity to witness the full production chain of Ikirezi's essential oils products. Farmers were busy working in the field, completing several tasks, including watering, planting, weeding, and harvesting. After the plants are harvested, they are sent to the distillation station, where the pure oils are extracted.
Afterwards, we conducted in-depth and focus group interviews with the farmers, to gain deeper insight into the social aspects of Ikirezi's business. The level of positive impact Ikirezi had on their livelihoods was evident from the farmers' responses.
"Since I started working for Ikirezi, I bought a house, and a cow. I am very happy!" responded one farmer. Another farmer explained how she was able to buy a sewing machine with her salary earned from Ikirezi. More and more farmers are now able to afford healthcare and send their children to school.
Additionally, the farmers have been able to use the skills they gained through Ikirezi’s trainings in their daily lives. “I learned the liquid compost technique from Ikirezi, and now use it for my own farm” responded one female farmer and mother of two from Kirehe.
We also witnessed the hope and confidence that Ikirezi has brought to these communities. "I bought land recently, and I am planning to get married next summer now that I have something of my own" commented one smiling female farmer. "Before Ikirezi came to our village, we felt forgotten and abandoned. When Ikirezi came, it was like they brought light to our community" explained another farmer.
It was truly inspiring to see how Ikirezi has been able to couple production of high quality natural oils for profit maximization with empowering smallholder farmers.
Our team of five, diverse female students form part of the Student Multidisciplinary Applied Research Team (S.M.A.R.T ) at Cornell University. While in Rwanda, our principal goal will be to provide market research analysis for a Rwandese community-interest agribusiness - Ikirezi. Ikirezi locally produces organically certified essential oils for regional and international sale. We arrived to Rwanda--the land of one thousand hills--on January 7th, 2017.
Prior to our departure, each team member completed macroeconomic analyses of the East African nation. Additionally, we arrived with novice understandings of the country’s socio-economic status. Thus far, we've been afforded first hand observation to the country's historical resilience (as well as their optimism to move to middle income status by 2020) despite the tragic turmoil that occurred two decades ago. The latter allowed us to hit the ground running, ready to hone in on the market analysis requested by our partnering organization, Ikirezi.
Their staff includes: the managing director and founder, Dr. Nicholas Hitamana, the administrative/sales assistant Michele Uwubuntu, and the operations manager Samuel Ntawiheba. They welcomed us and gave us a detailed history of the organization's beginnings and evolvement. Furthermore, we learned the details of the organization's daily operations, discussed our research framework and received Ikirezi's input and specific requests.
Join us on our journey as we document the organization's production chain, highlight some of the farmers' success stories, and detail our research process.