In Rwanda, essential oils to increase income from agriculture

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Harvest of eucalyptus leaves intended for the production of essential oil in the south-east of Rwanda, in Gahara, in October 2021.

Around the huge still heated over a wood fire, a pleasant scent fills the air. “It’s eucalyptus, explains Isaac Rutibana, agronomist. We have piled the leaves in the tank, added water, and after a distillation process we will get the essential oil at the end of this pipe. “

In a corner of the metal shed, empty jerry cans wait to receive the precious liquid, part of which will fly to the United States, Canada or Germany. It will be used in the production of perfumes and wellness products.

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For ten years in these hills of south-eastern Rwanda, the essential oil has been worth gold. Whether it is eucalyptus, geranium, lemongrass, marigold or patchouli, the production has changed the daily life of the inhabitants of Gahara, an area located 130 kilometers from Kigali, in the district of Kirehe. Nearly 150 people now work in these fields where you used to harvest only enough to meet your family’s needs.

“It was not easy to move farmers from subsistence farming to commercial farming.remembers Nicolas Hitimana, director of Ikirezi Natural Products. Even though they are produced in small quantities, essential oils are very valuable. In a small space, you can therefore save a lot of money. The prospect of attractive returns has convinced the most skeptics. ”

Head full of projects

If the cultivation of beans on one hectare makes it possible to earn around 1,700 euros per year, that of geranium can yield up to three or four times more depending on the price. In patchouli plantations, farmers have their heads full of plans. Depending on their experience, employees receive between 22 and 35 euros each month, compared to 6 euros when they grew beans or sweet potatoes. The desire to flee the green hills to settle in Kigali, the capital, in search of a better future has almost disappeared.

“Essential oils have changed my life, welcomes Claudine Nyirambabazi, 45 years old. I earn 33 euros per month when when I was growing potatoes, I barely had enough to eat. I wondered every day how I was going to feed my four children. Today, I can save for my retirement or in the event of a severe blow. And I no longer live in a hut but inside a tin house. “

Patchouli cultivation for essential oil production in south-eastern Rwanda, Gahara, October 2021.

Created in 2005, the project was first intended for the widows of the Tutsi genocide which killed nearly a million people in the spring of 1994. Today, it aims to be community-based and is oriented towards all the so-called vulnerable people in a country ranked, in 2020, at the 160e place out of 189 in terms of human development index by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

An amputated arm, Boudeciane Nyirabarera, 64, bought several plots with the salary of some 26 euros she receives. ” I managed to invest in three fields where I planted cassava, corn and beans, she indicates. With all of my income, I built a new house. ” Grégoire Barayamenye, 62, says to himself “Happy and serene” since he lives in a house connected to electricity and can “To afford clothes or medicine” when he goes to the market.

“Four harvests per year”

The Ikirezi company, named after a pearl owned by some members of the Rwandan nobility, had a difficult start. “The first oils produced did not meet the standards and could not be marketed, remembers Nicolas Hitimana. So we brought in some geranium plants from South Africa and luckily they have adapted very well. ” In 2014, Rwanda set up a laboratory to continuously test the quality of the oils produced and thus ensure that they meet international criteria.

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Cultivation for essential oils is demanding because it requires planting, weeding, hoeing or irrigating at very specific times in the development of the plant. “This requirement explains why there is a high commercial value but not only, explains Nicolas Hitimana. In Rwanda, we can do four harvests a year compared to two in South Africa. ” After a disappointing production of essential oils in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic (3 tons), Ikirezi, now the only producer in the country, hopes to reach 12 tons in 2021 and a growth in its turnover of 30 %.

In a constantly growing world market for essential oils (around $ 8 billion in 2018), Rwandan crops of tagetes or lemongrass have a bright future ahead of them, even if local demand remains weak: 80% of production is destined for for export. At the end of 2021, part of the patchouli production is due to fly to Canada where the brand The 7 Virtues has created a fragrance called Patchouli of Rwanda.

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In Rwanda, essential oils to increase income from agriculture

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