Diego Twahirwa, a chilli farmer in Rwanda, has been exporting his produce to China since 2019. Although he exports to some European capitals as well, he views China as the steadiest market and he has a growing clientele there.
“The good relationship between China and Rwanda has enabled farmers like me to realise our dreams. The Chinese market is quite unique when compared to the rest because they accept a wide range of goods without big complications,” Twahirwa tells The Africa Report.
The relationship was sealed by President Xi Jinping’s visit to Rwanda in 2018. In September last year, Twahirwa signed a life-changing agreement worth $100m with China’s Chinese GK International Enterprises to supply 50,000tn of chilli annually for five years. This deal enabled him to expand from about 6ha to 160ha, to employ more people and invest in better fertilisers and seeds.
“We are now waiting for both governments to sign a protocol that will enable us to export dry chilli to China. Once this promise is secured it will improve our business tremendously,” he says.
For all the coffee in China
Similarly, coffee farmers in Rwanda have gained access to China, thanks to China’s richest man, Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group. Ma jetted to Kigali twice in 2017 and met President Paul Kagame to advance the prospects of accessing the Chinese market for Rwandan entrepreneurs. Among the agreements they signed was one making Rwanda the first African country to join Alibaba’s Electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP).
“I have sold coffee to China through the electronic platform five times now and it all gets finished and I got paid instantly,” says Simeon Ngendahayo, manager of West Hills Coffee.
“Selling coffee in China was not easy at first. The market seemed quite closed to our products, so I was focusing on European and some Asian markets. This all changed when Rwanda joined the eWTP. The onus is now on us to ensure a steady supply and quality.”
The Kigali government reported in May that 1.5tn of Rwandan coffee beans sold out “in seconds” on the eWTP. The Private Sector Federation (PSF) now regularly conducts training sessions for exporters to ensure they make products that meet Chinese standards.
“We are seeing a surge in traders and farmers willing to be facilitated to access the market in China,” says the PSF’s Théoneste Ntagengerwa.
On the other side of the balance sheet, Rwanda is also buying many more Chinese exports as trade ties deepen. Rwanda’s imports from China skyrocketed from $157m in 2017 to $628m in 2019.