A little white flower is bringing bright prospects for Rwanda’s economy, and the lives of thousands of small farmers in the process.
One of just four major countries (Australia, Kenya, and Tanzania being the others) that grow pyrethrum, a flower refined into a highly demanded, natural, flower-based pesticide, Rwanda has been actively working to revive this once near-collapsed industry, and for good reason. With 70% to 80% of the pure active ingredients, Rwanda’s rich volcanic soil has the potential to produce some of the world’s best pyrethrum.
Last year, Rwanda’s pyrethrum flower production increased from 209 to 700 megatons, while export revenues increased by 380% and global market share surged from 6% to 15%. According to Karisimbi Business Partners, a Kigali-based consulting firm that is working with SOPYRWA, Rwanda’s only pyrethrum refinery, this also significantly contributed to the household incomes of over 8,000 farmers and increased land under pyrethrum cultivation.
A decade ago, Kenya dominated the production of pyrethrum, raking in about 70% of the global trade. Yet over the past six years, mishandling, corruption and delayed payments to farmers has caused a massive drop in Kenyan production. Industry experts claim that Kenya can still make nearly $135 million annually, but only if they renew their focus as well.
When Horizon Group took over SOPYRWA in 2008, the refinery was running at only 6% of installed capacity, producing just 4 metric tons of extract. In just two years, the company was producing 15.8 metric tons of extract.
SOPYRWA is now focusing on re-building the 15,000+ network of small farmers and their families who are key to their supply chain. By re-engaging private cooperatives, which deal directly with the local farmers and serve as collection points for dried pyrethrum, and offering farmers higher prices, immediate payment, and stronger high-yield seeds, SOPYRWA hopes to bring Rwanda’s share of the global pyrethrum market up to 20%. At the same time, SOPYRWA is now developing additional value-added products for the local region through a venture with a UK-based industry partner.
With government backing, and an expansion of global partnerships, SOPYRWA appears poised for another big year. Yet Crockett adds that the growth has as much to do with what SOPYRWA and the Government of Rwanda has done, as with the global market demand itself. Demand still outpaces supply by about 4:1, and the trend towards organic (e.g. anti-synthetic pesticides) coupled with Kenya’s collapsed pyrethrum sector puts Rwanda at a distinct advantage.
Given the ideal climate, both in terms of Rwanda’s improving business environment and its actual soil conditions, the potential for Rwanda’s pyrethrum production and refinement is vast.