01 Sep Rwanda Blog
Land of a Thousand Hills and Smiles
Day 1- Kigali Genocide Memorial and Meeting with Agri Influencers
Before coming to Rwanda, I felt a great responsibility to familiarise myself with the country. I was aware of the history from speaking with my dad and also what I had learned at school but given how long ago that was I felt obligated to learn more and so, I read. I read multiple books and articles about the history of this country and focused on what is probably the most prominent part, the genocide of 1994 against the Tutsi people.
For anyone who isn’t familiar, between April and July 1994, the government of Rwanda orchestrated a campaign of total devastation and destruction which saw the Hutu majority call for the murder of the Tutsi minority whilst the rest of the world stood by and did nothing. In just 100 days, over one million people lost their lives, and the entire county was almost destroyed beyond repair. To try and put some sort of scale to it, this was the most efficient mass killing since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
On our first full day we headed to the Kigali Genocide Memorial which was created in 2004. Not only does this place act as a memorial but also a museum and place for reflection. It splits into three parts, the outdoor, indoor and gardens with each area having a different purpose. All of which I’ll try and explain as best as I can.
When we arrived there was an apprehension about what to expect. I felt like I was in a good position though, I’d read about this, I knew the names, the numbers, and the places where it happened but I failed to fully consider one major element. The real people behind this unimaginable tragedy. The first part was watching a video featuring testimony of survivors, we listened to them describe what they saw and who they lost. At this point, the tears started, and they barely stopped. A member of staff from the museum assured me, as he handed me tissues and water, that it happens all the time, but I couldn’t help but be embarrassed as this man, who himself had survived a genocide, was comforting me when he was the one who’d suffered unimaginable loss.
We then headed outside and used headsets as our English guide, numbers were displayed at each part, and we were able to follow along easily despite how harrowing the audio prompts were. The garden sections house a mass grave where around 250,000 victims have been buried with dignity. However, this number continues to grow as across Rwanda mass graves are being found that require to be exhumed and moved to the memorial. Many Rwandans often visit here to pay their respects to lost loved ones and just to spend some time with them. We each placed a rose on the graves to show respect to the dead and to their families. Outside there is also a wall of names of these victims which isn’t yet completed due to victims’ names still being gathered and documented.
Inside was split into three mains parts, life before the genocide and how things got to the point of mass murder, during the genocide and the atrocities which took place and life after genocide and the road to forgiveness. Like that outside section, inside was an incredibly painful and emotionally charged environment. No one was safe during this time, infants and children were slaughtered in the streets, neighbours turned on each other and entire families were wiped out. The stories are completely devastating but I firmly believe this visit was essential for us all to understand the country we were in, and I would strongly advise anyone who is lucky enough to visit Rwanda to visit the memorial.
As we reached the end of the museum, I was able to sit outside in the heat and reflect on the morning. My dad has always encouraged me to be educated about the world around me, to learn about history both good and bad. So, I knew what happened in Cambodia during the 70s at the hands of Pol Pot, I knew what happened to the Jewish people during the Second World War and even Bosnia in the 90s but standing in Kigali in front of the remains of victims made the world stand still. This only happened 29 years ago, the year before I was born. What I struggled to fathom is the amount of forgiveness by the Rwandan people, but I suppose it’s truly testament to them and their strength and resilience. Their ability to move on whilst not forgetting is unimaginable but they have achieved it together. This city is a bustling hive of industry, technology and community which has been achieved not as Hutu and Tutsi but as Rwandans.
When we left the memorial and headed to lunch there was a sombre air around us. The traditional Rwandan lunch was delicious, but I was equally glad we managed to visit this lunch place subsequently that week to be able to enjoy it in better spirits.
we continued on, the focused turned onto Wallace as we met up with a group of young people who wished to be provided some training on becoming the next big “agri influencers” and this was really where Wallace could shine like the star, we all know he is. He was completely in his element and had the entire room at ease as he effortlessly explained social media use to everyone.
He handled all of the questions expertly and gave realistic advice to the budding influencers.
It was a pleasure to be a part of the session and from the feedback it was extremely well received by all those who attended.
The night was finished off with a light dinner at a local golf club. Although now that I think about it, it was a light meal for all of us expect for Wallace who decided to order 1.4kg of red meat which came with two sides. He firstly orders chips which horrified the waitress so much she didn’t ask him to order vegetables as the other side dish but more told him that was what he was getting. Although I’m sure his cholesterol will be thanking him for her intervention!
Day 2- Eza Neza Hydroponic Fruit Farm
After a delicious breakfast of fresh fruits and Spanish omelettes it was time to head out of Kigali city for the first time, destination Shyogwe which was about a 2 hour drive away.
It was a beautiful warm day, which we were glad to see until we realised that our minivan had no windows, so for most of the day, we were 5 melting Scots.
By 9am we had reached the Hydroponic Strawberry Farm in Shyogwe where our host, Christian and 11 full time staff work year-round. The Site consisted of 3 partly open greenhouses over 1 hectare. With 15000 strawberry plants spread between these. The company use around 6000 litres a day with their automatic Hydroponic system which can be adjusted to fit the plants needs, there is also a manual setting if the greenhouse is needing an extra hydration boost. This water comes from a natural spring with the water being recycled several times before being deposited as waste. This spring used by the company has also been opened to the local community for use in their fields and homes.
After trialling out many options Christian settled with partly open greenhouses as he found this helps find the right temperature for strawberries to grow, letting the breeze in to cool down in warm days as strawberries don’t flower from 26 degrees. Open greenhouses also allow bees to come in for pollination. He told us in Shyogwe the climate was great for growing as the change in temperature from day to evening increases sugar production.
In 2019 Christians company Eza Neza started with cherry tomatoes and bell peppers before trying out berries. He found there was a gap in the market for strawberries as this was not a common item found in supermarkets. Four years later, and Eza Neza now supplies many local hotels, bakeries and also exports 50kg of fruit to the West African country Gabon on a biweekly basis.
This doesn’t come without its challenges though as getting plant material isn’t easy, Christian imports his seedlings from the Netherlands which last roughly 3 years before needing replaced. The plants throughout the greenhouses are all at different stages which means with the good weather in Rwanda they are able to harvest strawberries every day of the year.
Plastic is also a challenge, in Rwanda the manufacturing, use, importation or sale of plastic bags or single use items is prohibited – Eza Neza as a start-up business currently have an exemption from this as they work on finding an alternative product for packaging as all grading and packaging are done on farm.
As a start-up business, Christian has a long term leases (15 years) with the government for the land, in total he has 1 hectare that he’s currently working on and a further 14 acres over the road that he hopes to expand to but for now allows the locals to grow on. His aim is to impact the local community positively so most of his employees are locals with 6 out of his 11 staff, full time Berry pickers.
Christian was a very intelligent man with degrees in both business & psychology. He had no prior work in the Agricultural industry but saw the potential. This seemed to be a pattern that we were seeing this week, the Agricultural industry in Rwanda seems to be thriving.
Next up was a quick stop at a local market in Muhanga, it was amazing to walk through. All the beautiful colours and smells of the hundreds of fruit & vegetables on sale. Bernard even bought us some small bananas called Kamaramasenge that we’re much sweeter than what we would have back home.
Stafford Coffee Brewers in Musambira, Kamonyi was our venue for lunch with Linsey and Katie trying out some of the local beers. With club sandwiches and wraps all round we were beginning to realise that lunch portions in Rwanda are rather large, which led to us all comparing sizes of mouths – it turns out size doesn’t matter as Wallace still managed to clear his plate with his tiny little mouth.
Back to the hotel for an afternoon chilling by the pool, well Linsey went a run and Paul did a workout first, but this was followed by some questionable water aerobics in the pool.
For dinner we headed to a place called Heaven which was a 20minutes walk away, luckily up hill on the way there as we all enjoyed a great meal and were happy to walk downhill with our full stomachs.
Day 3- Hydroponic Feeds and Highland Cowboys
Our day started by trying on the gorgeous RYAF SAYFC collaborative t-shirts given to us by Bernard (the Communications officer for RYAF – let’s call him Rwandese Paul)! They are lovely, however a couple in the party struggled somewhat to fit in with Wallace looking to be due in a couple months!
It was then onto the day’s visits. Our first stop was to a young farmer, Jackson who is producing animal feeds hydroponically. We were shown round by Jackson and head agronomist, Deborah, on top of this they have 9 full time and 4 part time employees. I’ve seen this system in Northern Ireland called ‘making acres’ but this unit was so resourceful, the sun was utilised but not to the detriment of the plant through UV limiting mesh over the green house and water is captured from gutters, intentionally sloped concrete and reused until too much residue occurs.
Irrigation is performed manually with a garden hose. The grains (wheat and maize) are soaked before being kept under a black sheet with no water for 48 hours which causes them to shoot and they are then ready for the aluminium trays. These are laid in a vertical zigzag system to make the water flows through all the sprouts before getting collected for reuse.
Each kg of seed put down produces 8.7kg with no inputs except nutrient rich water, no soil, no pesticides…just nutrient rich water. An 870% increase, wow!
For each kg produced 700ml of water is required. The farm is able to produce 32t per week with a crude protein content of TWENTY FOUR PERCENT!
Next was a ‘20-30 minute’ trip that took just shy of 2 hours, where we stopped for food. As always Rwandan food did not disappoint but I can barely deal with the portions!
We then headed to Ibere Arya Bogogwe, a cooperative that milks cows and produces milk products. Straight away, as what can only be a piss take due to all the laughter from the locals, we were dressed up as cowboys in a typical cowboy hat, a stick and some kind of a large tartan tea towel, they literally laughed as they gave us it! I’m sure if it was 10 degrees I would enjoy the prospect of a pretty duvet but in 30 degrees (the cold part of the country apparently) I’m less than excited about this!
This cloak was very similar to the Maasai Shukas that we had seen many farmers wearing in Tanzania. On our drive everyone appeared to be laughing as we passed, I’m certain this was all a set up at our expense:
Step 1 – put the Scottish people in tartan in what feels like a natural meecro-wa-vay
Step 2 – sit back and enjoy
To get to the cows we drove up a rather questionable quarry road for 30 minutes. At times we had to request the help of some local road crews just to smooth out the road enough for us to drive through. Once we arrived at the top of the road, it was still a 10 minute walk around the steep green valley sides to our eventual destination. When we finally got there, we did various games that a few of the team got involved in, high jump, skipping and a stick fighting game! We were all completely shown up by 2 of the Rwandese guys and 2 German kids who are friends with the families!
We got to milk in the middle of a field with a dairy bull around which was a surreal experience! We drank hot milk by the fire in 25-degree heat as the locals said, ‘is this like Scotland?’ Nope, categorically not! But what a gorgeous view it was. 15 cows yielding 10 litres a day (they say but Mr Carruth is unsure) and they are currently with the bull. We spent a good few hours here and felt so much at home. A very steep mile back to the car before a small 4.5 hour journey back to Kigali.
We’ll sleep well tonight!
Day 4- Meeting with RYAF and visiting CARL group
After a long day on Wednesday, we enjoyed the later rise today before we got into our smart dress and headed off to meet with the RYAF board and members of the government at the department of agriculture buildings, known as MINAGRI. As you can imagine this was uncomfortable for all of us in 30-degree heat at 9 in the morning but more so for the boys as Paul melted away in his kilt and Wallace in his three-piece full tweed suit and I heard him say “If there’s no AC I’ve got about 7 seconds left”.
We were welcomed by the CEO of RYAF and made our way round the building into a grand boardroom full of RYAF board members, some of whom we had met over the week and others were new faces to introduce ourselves too. The permanent secretary of MINAGRI joined us for the signing of the memorandum of understanding between RYAF and SAYFC, further strengthening the partnership between the two youth organisations.
We listened to them talk about their organisation and how far they have come in just 7 years, with around 4000 members and some very impressive statistics and details about programmes they have collaborated with the government on.
We then moved on to discuss how both organisations could benefit from each other and some of our common goals such as mental health improvement and further education. We shared with them details about the cultivating leaders programme and other mentorship programmes.
We then headed back to the hotel to have some lunch and get changed into something cooler before heading to visit the CARL group.
Regis, who had been looking after us all week is one the four involved with this company and since the previous trip from SAYFC to Rwanda they had moved premises to keep up with their expansion. They make pastries, bread, donuts, cupcakes, and biscuits all from just sweet potatoes! They supply a lot of private schools in Rwanda and supermarkets too.
Presently, they’re working with government to find the right recipe to combat malnutrition. There is continuous research going on at the moment to perfect the recipe but for now they’re being asked to add iron to their loafs of bread as a big portion of young adults and girls are suffering from anaemia in the country.
We finished the day off by playing some pool & FIFA with the locals – neither of which we were very good at – before chilling out at the pool as a group and then heading out for some dinner and karaoke where Paul graced us with his singing, and I was serenaded by a Rwandan man likening me to a calve.
Day 5- NAEB and the RYAF Store
We left the hotel at 10:30am heading to NAEB the National Agricultural Export Board. We were connected through Sakina, the RYAF Chair who is the Managing Director of Afrifoods Ltd.
As a National Facility, we had to pass through several layers of security and wait to get the all-clear before continuing our tour. We were first searched and made to pack all our belongings away before being given white coats, trousers, masks, and hats.
The warehouse we were being shown acts as a public food processing facility. Where private companies can hire a space to sort, process and pack their produce, prior to international export.
To begin, we were taken through the main processing room to a reception area, where trucks carrying local produce are received ready to be dealt with.
This produce is then placed into cold rooms to ensure they remain fresh during the operation. The rooms were set at different temperatures according to the produce stored within for instance green beans are stored between 4 and 7°C whilst avocados and chilli peppers that still need time to ripen are kept between 7 and 12°C.
From the cold rooms the produce is then sorted, processed, and packaged by the employees of the private companies. NAEB only provide the space, tables and crates and it is up to the companies to provide packaging and labour. In the busy season this facility can process, package, and ship out over 70 tonnes of produce a day! Once sorted, packed and ready, the produce is then inspected by RICA a government food standards agency.
The facility works on a colour coded crate system. Blue crates are yet to be processed, red crates have been graded for the local market and black crates are finished products ready for international export. The produce is shipped all around the world, with the main importers being the UK, France, and Dubai. The whole process from arrival at the facility to the plane takes less than 48hrs.
After lunch we went to a special store which held products made exclusively by RYAF members. We met a member called Victor, who’s company Isonga food creates a range of items including, passionfruit squash, chilli oil and wine.
Other products from RYAF members in the store included gooseberry beer, hair and skin oil, beetroot powder, hibiscus tea, pineapple and tree tomato jams and chilli paste.
After this we went round the corner to a local market. One of a number of daily markets across the city. The market was a dark maze of tables and high wooden walls that forced you down narrow passages into the paths of awaiting vendors. It hosted a huge variety of fresh food and packaged produce. Clothes, hardware, gifts, basically anything you wanted could be found here for ‘almost free’ as the stall holders would say. They even held some high fashion brands like ‘Diar, Cucci and Adidab’. The fresh produce vendors are not farmers themselves but instead go out into villages and farmland and buy their wares straight from farmers to sell at the market stalls. Stacking them in impressively high and rather precarious piles throughout the tightly packed room.
Once we managed to find a path out of the market maze, we travelled back to the hotel to pack and change for our final evening in Kigali. We spent the night being hosted by our friend Regis and his sisters, joining them for a beautifully prepared family dinner. The hospitality of everyone we have met on this trip has been truly humbling. They have welcomed us into their homes and businesses as if old friends and have treated us with amazing kindness and generosity. Regis even surprised us with a special announcement. He is coming to the UK this year! He will be studying for a year at Cranfield University, looking at future food sustainability. So, we’ll get a chance soon enough to return his fantastic hospitality.
Day 6- Final Breakfast and Goodbyes
We began our last morning in Rwanda by sharing a final breakfast with our friends from RYAF. We reflected on the week past and looked to the future and the continuation of the partnership and friendship between our two associations. Sakina presented each of us with gifts from the organisation and we were all taken aback by the gesture. There were some teary eyes around the table that morning. We presented our own thanks through cards and our Scottish Flag, and we all gathered for a final picture and to say our goodbyes.
We then headed off to the Airport and gave our final goodbyes to Regis, Rwanda, and our African Adventures. It was a morning of mixed emotions; sadness at having to leave our new friends and this beautiful nation behind, thankfulness for this amazing experience and excitement for what this trip will lead to in the future for this wonderful partnership.