Rwanda is intensifying efforts to brand locally produced products aimed at enhancing its export base and balance the nagging 75% trade imbalance.

Through ‘Made in Rwanda’ initiative, government wants to improve the quality of local products, packaging and branding to compete both locally and internationally.

Trade Minister Francois Kanimba told KTPress, “We want to enhance quality, standards, branding and packaging of locally produced products along the value chain.”

Kanimba added the initiative intends to “change the mindset of our people toward locally-made products.” “We are confident this will boost productivity and help narrow the country’s deficit gap.”

Experts says local manufacturers lack a branding element in their business cycle. Maurice Kareba, a marketing professional says manufacturers should know how to brand their products to capture global markets.

“A brand character defines and promotes any business. They should develop a strong bond with customer base to differentiate them in the market,” he said.

On Monday, the Ministry of Trade launched a year-long ‘Made in Rwanda’ campaign, to reduce trade deficit gap, by promoting domestic products for export.

Alexandre Ndahayo, a Rwandan shoemaker operating in Gatsibo District East of the country, without skills, joined Gatsibo artisans’ association- making customized products from hides.

The association makes shoes ranging from Rwf20, 000 to 25000 ($35).

However, Ndahayo still believes that production costs and supply chain and access to funds are major issues affecting local manufacturers, and not branding.

“Had I not joined this association with a share, my dream wouldn’t have come true,” he says reflecting on how start-ups find it hard to do business.

In response to help local producers’ access funds, government set up the Business Development Fund (BDF).

But, Ndahayo says, the fund requires high value collaterals that represent 25% of entire loan package you apply in a Bank. “This is not easy for a startup,” he says.

Innocent Musoni, a Kigali-based artist, says “skills development and raw materials have been a challenge.”

According to Musoni, “I buy sewing materials from Tanzania and they are very expensive. We need home made products to ease costs on production.”

For Bernadette Nyiratebuka, who owns a juice making enterprise COZASGA in Gakenke District, “packaging costs have brought down my business…I import all materials from Nairobi we need government to intervene.

Ezra Byiringiro runs a carpentry shop ‘Atelier de Menuiserie de Yaunde’ in musanze District in Northern part of Rwanda. He says: “I have struggled to approach financial institutions for funds in vain. They only favour big companies and ignore us.”

With the above challenges faced by local producers, manufacturing sector, saw a decline of 1% from 15% as of third quarter of last year, registering 14% of GDP, according to third quarter of GDP 2014. Rwanda targets to increase GDP per capita to 1240 dollars by 2020.

According to Minister Kanimba, the decline in the sector was due to importation of materials from outside.

Government says it’s desperate to push the industry to greater heights. Last week, Trade Ministry signed memorandum of understanding with local companies.

Innocent Karangwa, public relations officer in the Ministry said the deal is aimed at enhancing mutual relationship between the two parties to promote investment of locally made products.

Local manufacturers say lack of enough skills and technology limit the quality of local products. Most of the areas that lack skills include agro-processing, automobile.

However, Anoncee Kuradusenge, head of Agro-processing division at National Industrial Research Development Agency, “Manufacturers shouldn’t worry. We have set community processing centres across the country to provide technology-based skills.”

“The centres have just been established. We will start delivering hands-on skills next year.” About five centres have been established in Nyabihu, Rwamagana, Burera and Gatibo Districts.

By: Dan Ngabonziza