Ripe for Success: Rwandan passion fruit farmers find profit using new tech tools
By Ellie Van Houtte for RTI International
Jean Claude Hakmerimana walks down rows of manicured vines, guiding tender tendrils along wires and trimming wayward plants into formation. Although he dropped out of school because of the cost of fees, the income earned from his 850 passion fruit plants offers renewed opportunity for the young entrepreneur, who hopes to one day manage many more hectares of fruit.
Today, it’s easy to find passion fruit in baskets at roadside markets, juices served at hotels, and as a household staple, but this nutritious culinary delight has not always been a profitable crop for farmers in the Wamagana District of Rwanda.
“There were so many fruits, but no one was buying,” said Jean Bosco Afurika of the market environment that existed when he first started farming 12 years ago.
When he founded the Cooperative of Farmer Fruits Kigabiro Ejoheza (COFFK) in March 2017, Jean Bosco had a vision for putting the strength of many farmers together to develop a market for what he saw as a juicy gem of a crop. Together, co-op members introduced the fruit to new potential buyers, even putting information on the internet to attract search engine traffic. But, members still needed more support to grow demand.
“The big challenge was to know how [member farmers] could grow productivity and get clients,” said Jean Bosco.
Squeezing fresh opportunity from technology
In a stroke of luck, the farmer-led organization received technology, tools and training to professionalize its supply chain with support from the USAID/Rwanda Private Sector Driven Agricultural Growth program (PSDAG), part of the Feed the Future initiative. With a co-investment grant from PSDAG, the co-op learned how to use modern technology — including a simple tablet — to log information that could help them understand how they could stay on the leading edge of marketing opportunities.
Instead of digging through stacks of paper with handwritten tabulations of farmer harvests, the new tools are allowing co-op farmers the ability to enter their harvest data on a tablet, right from their fields.
After learning how to use the software, co-op members create farmer profiles that let them predict harvest trends individually and cumulatively for all co-op members. Using the data collected as well as historical information about fruit yield trends in the region, the co-op could help the farmers estimate harvest and forecast profitability, even before the growing season begins.
“When you plan and know your harvest, you can better prepare for the next season,” said Jean Bosco of how these new tools are enabling farmers to calculate estimated profit per hectare, predict their incomes, lease additional land, and hire additional workers for crop management.
Since learning how to use these tools, Jean Bosco has traveled across the country to train more than 200 other co-op members on leveraging innovation and technology to improve their value chain reach.
From grower to buyer, a complete cycle of impact
Being able to accurately estimate crop yields has allowed the co-op to cultivate more links to suppliers and distributors who need consistent sources of passion fruit for the products they create.
Verdianne Hategekimana owns one of many small businesses that sources up to 400 kilograms of passion fruit from the cooperative each week for juice production. When she started her business several years ago, she could only produce juice one day a week because she was working out of an incubation center that was shared by many entrepreneurs. When she was accepted as a private sector partner in the PSDAG program in 2017, she gained skills in marketing and financial management to grow her operation. With a grant for startup capital, Verdianne was able to expand her business to a permanent location and hire 14 employees to produce juices for sale at Kigali-area supermarkets.
Like so many of the farmers and agri-preneurs who engaged with USAID through the PSDAG program, to see her dreams come true feels like a miracle to Verdianne. Even sweeter is seeing the fruits of her labor come to harvest through the employees and buyers she is able to support.
About the USAID/Rwanda Private Sector Driven Agricultural Growth Program
Since 2014, the USAID/Rwanda Private Sector-Driven Agricultural Growth Program, implemented by RTI International as part of the Feed the Future initiative, has partnered with more than 50 businesses and 90 cooperatives to mobilize more than $11 million dollars in new private sector capital investment and $26.3 million in loans and credit into the agriculture sector. In addition to building strategic partnerships with the private sector and building the capacity of more than 249,000 farmers and cooperative members, the program has worked with financial institutions and the Government of Rwanda to create enabling environments and policy for private sector growth.