Value Addition and New Product Innovation for Moringa and Cosmetic Oil Producers in Rwanda

Asili Logo
Moringa Asili

Asili Natural Oils (ANO) Ltd was established in 2012 in the country of Rwanda. Asili is a supplier of natural ingredients to customers in the personal care and specialty oils industry around the world, and connects hundreds of smallholder farmers to high value international markets. ANO, supported by TRAC, is implementing a project to ‘scale up’ the commercial exploitation of oil pressed from the kernel of the seed from the Moringa Oleifera tree, sourced from Rwandan smallholder farmers. Through this process, the project intends to deliver added-value benefits, at levels not yet achieved in Rwanda (or likely East Africa), across the local supply-chain from both Moringa oil products and other indigenous oils, such as Geranium, Calabash and Wild Basil, while adhering to socially motivated practices and securing internationally recognised ‘fair trade’ and ‘organic’ certifications.

The objective of achieving the certifications is to ensure that the benefits of value addition (margin enhancement) are shared at all levels of the value chain, particularly among Asili’s smallholder farmer suppliers, while distinguishing Asili’s products on the global market and realising greater social and commercial benefit.

The project’s four pillars/components are:


  1. Achieve proof of concept by scaling-up the existing pilot to viable levels of production and developing a capacity to meet export requirements

  2. Expand the range of African-origin, smallholder produced oils to include fatty and essential oils with commercial potential via the establishment of a smallholder out-grower supply chain

  3. Research the potential for the development of value-added oil and derivative products from the range of oils beginning with Moringa

  4. Bringing value-added technologies in-house via investments in enhanced processing and shelf-life

The project is structured into 5 milestones. Milestones 1 & 2 have been achieved; while 3, 4 & 5 are on-going.

  1. the distribution of 25,000 Moringa saplings to at least 150 farmer suppliers and expand processing capacity from 2.5 tonnes to a minimum 6 MT per month

  2. the production and sampling of at least 3 ‘new’ oils never before produced by Asili

  3. distributing at least 10 ha equivalent of planting material to smallholders; creation of at least 1 Organic Farmers Association; 75 new moringa farmers supplying the company

  4. 15-40 ha organic/fair trade demonstration farm under cultivation; at least 400 total farmers supplying the company

  5. initial launch of 2 direct-to-consumer (DTC) natural oils products; 50% increase in farmer cash incomes derived from working with Asili

Moringa Rwanda

Project Objectives

Moringa Seeds
Asili Oils
  • Key relationships established with several of Asili’s main customers in Europe, the United States and South Africa have been accompanied by unexpected benefits that include a partnership approach to cost-sharing in the analysis and testing of oils.
  • Asili has successfully produced and tested six different oils i.e. Kalahari Melon seed oil, ‘Umwungu’ oil, Rose Bourbon Geranium oil, Sponge Gourd oil, Wild Basil and Wild African Calabash oils. Testing has been completed and now Asili is focusing on examining marketability and further testing.
  • Strengthened relationships with potential buyers, including one of the largest natural beauty product retailers in the word (and buyer of Moringa oil) have generated a confidence that Asili will have ready access to a market for its Moringa oil, as well as its new indigenous oils and other products when they are eventually launched on the market.
  • Continued expansion of smallholder farmer supplier base: in the first phase (August 2014 – January 2015) over 100,000 Moringa tree saplings and seed packets were distributed to over 200 new smallholder farmers with extension services offered primarily in the impoverished eastern province of Rwanda. The second phase is ongoing with a target of distributing Moringa saplings to an additional 75 ‘new’ farmer producers.
  • 2 new oil presses and an essential oil distillation unit were purchased and installed at ANO’s facility at Ndera tripling the processing capacity from 2.5 MT to 7.5 MT of seeds per month to support increased purchase volumes from farmers and new product innovation. Asili’s processing facility and logistics activities employ 23 full-time and 20 part-time staff, with over 60% percent being women.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

Despite the acknowledged successes, the project’s implementation was not entirely challenge free as there were delays in the accomplishments of the agreed milestones; the main obstacles to progress including the following:
  • The long turnaround from identifying novel natural oils to actual marketing has been difficult, however ANO discovered several new oils indigenous to Rwanda that have established interest from international buyers.
  • Organic and fair trade certification is in the hands of an external party – the organic and fair trade certification partner. Delays in responding to certifying body requirements and the securing of certification are forcing extensions to the completion of Milestone 3.
  • A nationwide Moringa tree campaign led by government and various NGOs in 2005 led to massive disillusionment when farmers found no market for their Moringa seeds and leaves. Since 2012, ANO has offered a market for those farmers that maintained their trees, slowly rejuvenating the Moringa value chain and giving confidence to farmers to re-start planting.  During the TRAC project, ANO has reduced skepticism by establishing close relationships with smallholder farmer leaders by inviting them to visit the processing facility and meet with Asili’s senior management, so that they could be assured that the crops they would plant and harvest would have a guaranteed market.
  • Given the logistical uncertainties related to importation of capital goods into Rwanda, including the sourcing of machinery (e.g. the oil press and distillation units) from abroad also caused unexpected delays, so procurement was given priority at the beginning of the project which helped mitigate against possible delays. Even still, this proved difficult in relation to the sourcing a distillation unit and seed dryer. Delays in manufacturing ordered process equipment had also not been fully anticipated; and, the introduction of new regulatory requirements from the government led to further delays in sourcing.
  • The acquisition of land in Rwanda has also proved to be a challenge as the country possesses one of the highest population densities in the world and availability of farmland is scarce. This was identified as a risk at the start of the project and has actually manifested itself.

With more information and better planning, these challenges could have been minimized or avoided. However, as this was a ‘pilot’ project they were unfortunately unexpected.

Rwanda Seeds
Asili Oils Rwanda

Conclusion

ANO has made good progress in ensuring the international personal care industry recognizes locally sourced Moringa, acknowledging that the potential for local supply has only been barely explored. The securing of key partnerships with major cosmetic producers, distributors and retailers will lead to a guaranteed market for the commodity and facilitate increased exports. The identification of indigenous seeds that have unique and commercial properties will contribute to the growth of the Rwanda high-value natural oils industry, raising the country’s profile as a reliable producer of quality oils. As one Moringa farmer said, “As long as Asili continues to keep its promises, Moringa is going to change our lives”.