April 20, 2024

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Transforming Rwanda’s Food Systems: Circularity for Sustainability

The Circular Food Systems for Rwanda project hosted a one-day learning and exhibition event in Kigali to showcase how the project is transforming Rwanda’s food systems to make them more circular and sustainable.

The Circular Economy for Food Systems for Rwanda is a three-year project (2021-2024), funded by the IKEA Foundation and implemented by a consortium of partners, namely the National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA) through the Cleaner Production and Climate Innovation Centre (CPCIC). the World Resources Institute (WRI), the African Circular Economy Alliance (ACEA), the African Circular Economy Network (ACEN), the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE), and Resonance.

The event was a special occasion to celebrate the achievements that the project has made over the last three years since its inception in 2021 and also a great opportunity for learning, knowledge exchange, and fostering collaboration to advance the circular economy for food in Rwanda, Africa, and beyond.

During his speech at the event, Dr. Christian Sekomo Birame, Director General of the National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA), highlighted that building a circular economy for food is crucial to supporting the fast-growing population in Rwanda and worldwide.

He said, “As we reflect on the achievements of the past three years, it’s evident that our collective efforts have made significant strides in advancing the circular economy within food systems. One of the most notable accomplishments is the increased awareness surrounding circular economy principles. Together, we have deepened our understanding of the impact of food loss and waste and have committed to supporting the transformation towards circular food systems.”

He revealed that through a partnership with ENABEL, NIRDA invested around $11 billion in acquiring modern technology aimed at boosting productivity, exports, improving quality, and fostering job creation in various value chains. These include fruit and vegetables, piggery, poultry, and animal feed, among others. Through its program for youth innovators, approximately five projects in the agriculture value chain were supported for the development of innovative products derived from cow by-products.

He continued that, however, the current culture of a linear food system characterized by excessive waste, overexploitation of natural resources, and a disregard for environmental impact is still a challenge. Through the cleaner production and climate innovation center, the introduction of circular economy practices and initiatives in the private sector, specifically industries, supports the implementation of the envisioned sustainable transformation production systems.

Under the circular food systems, CPCIC and project partners push for respect for the principles of producing food in ways that regenerate nature, reduce food loss and waste, and ensure that the commonly wasted resources are used productively in the food system. The project is also very relevant, as 68% of industries in Rwanda are involved in agro-processing, calling for the application of sustainable and circular models along the whole food production chain.

Dr. Christian noted that the project provides vital support to selected small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) through the project’s technical assistance facility, empowering them to adopt circular business models and enhance their practices.

He said, “This tailored assistance, specific to their specific needs and objectives, positions them for effective integration and scalability, driving forward the circular economy agenda.”

He concluded that even if they achieve significant milestones, their journey toward establishing a fully circular food system requires continued effort and collaboration. SMEs constitute over 90% of business entities in Rwanda, with the private sector serving as the driving engine of our economy. More concerted efforts and collaboration are necessary to enhance their support for these enterprises and to ensure they are also connected to financial opportunities for greater innovation and sustainability.

Dr. Suzan Chomba, Director of Vital Landscapes at the World Resources Institute (WRI), emphasized that circularity means there’s surely nothing that is going to waste not only the environmental standard but also the economic well-being.

She said, “What I learned today is that we are moving beyond sustainability; circularity is actually beyond sustainability because a business comes in search of sustainability, but there are still elements that come converted into circularity. Change is not going to come from the unusual; it is going to come from ordinary people committing to do extraordinary things.”

She highlighted the challenges they met, especially with the cohort of SMEs, and that they had brilliant SMEs when they launched applications for small and medium enterprise businesses in circularity.

She said, “We received a total of 70 applications within a very short period and with very little communication trying to reach out, but we only had limited resources to narrow down for technical support to seven of them. That has been a painful process because most of the 70 SMEs that applied all qualified for our Technically Advisory facility, and we’re seeing a demand that is far bigger than our capability in terms of resources to provide that technical support, and therefore we’re looking at how we kill the ability for providing technical support.”

She continued that most of the SMEs that are converting products that would otherwise be waste into energy-intensive products are also energy-intensive. The project is looking at sustainable resources and how they link them to both the technical support for transitioning to energy as well as finance.

Furthermore, the establishment of a multistakeholder platform has been instrumental in catalyzing collaboration and coordination across the public, private, and civil society sectors. This platform has facilitated dialogue, shared learning, and fostered partnerships, laying the foundation for meaningful change within the food sector.   

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