Interview: Steven Gajadin of TechForce Innovations on sugarcane in Rwanda

The sugarcane industry in Rwanda is facing multiple challenges: shortage of suitable land and severe floods of the Nyaborongo river lead to low productivity and yields. This forces Rwanda to import sugar, which leaves customers dependent on volatile prices.

The ‘Sugar: Make It Work’ project aims to strengthen the local Rwandan sugarcane industry. Therefore it develops and implements intervention strategies on water management, precision agriculture, and value chain improvements. PPPLab’s Marleen Brouwer spoke with Steven Gajadin of TechForce Innovations, who is the project coordinator of this award-winning PPP.

What is TechForce Innovations’ role in this PPP?

Originally, TechForce Innovations started as a company to support other organisations in arranging financial aspects of project applications. More and more, our consultancy is playing an actual role in the projects themselves of which ‘Sugar: Make It Work’ is an example. In this project, we are the lead partner, responsible for overall project management. This includes managing on the progress, performance and quality of the project activities, as well as project administration and financial management. Furthermore we take care of communication on and reporting of project updates, within the partnership as well as to the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO).

What is currently the biggest challenge within your project?

The biggest challenge at the moment relates to the construction of the water management infrastructure. We have experienced some delays due to contract negotiations with the local contractor which has resulted in a challenging timeline as it is important to complete the construction works before the start of the rainy season (mid-March) to avoid any damages. Moreover, we are starting up a lot of activities in short time, including introducing sugarcane farmers to Operation & Maintenance procedures.

Of which results or processes are you proud?

This is a multifaceted project, in which a variety of experts play a role. The PPP concerns water management, precision agriculture, value chain improvements, private sector development, food security, and much more. I am proud of every partner bringing in its own expertise. This complementarity is the power of our partnership. The early signing of our cooperation agreement showed the strong commitment of all partners.

Our success has not gone unnoticed by others. In November 2014 we have won the Best Public-Private Partnership award in the Dutch ‘Partnership Verkiezing’. Moreover, in that same month, we had the opportunity to meet Minister Lilianne Ploumen of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation. She was delighted to hear about our PPP, and we hope she will visit our on-site activities in Rwanda soon.

In your opinion, what are the biggest pitfalls for PPPs in the FDOV subsidy framework?

To start with, I would like to thank RVO and the Dutch embassy in Kigali for their flexibility. Our cooperation has been good from the beginning. I hope that the assessment period can be reduced in future calls as it took almost one year to hear if our project was accepted under FDOV, while the project team was ready to start the activities much earlier.

At the start of the project the position of RVO and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was a bit unclear to us as we saw them together as one point of contact. As the project evolved, we learned that they both have a separate role and are differently involved in the project. It requires a different approach which took some time to adapt to, but is now currently working out perfectly.

Are there subjects that you would like to discuss with other parties involved in PPPs?

Yes, definitely. FDOV and FDW require that projects should not be commercially viable. However, we experienced that private partners are participating to expect economic returns. We would like to learn how other projects deal with this requirement.

Another subject would be Operation & Maintenance procedures: how to make them effective and useful for farmers? As soon as our drain is finished, a large group of outgrowers will be responsible to keep the drain clean, and this should be monitored closely to assure proper functioning of the channel in the years to come. This is in their interest, because their land size for sugar cultivation will become larger. We can imagine that especially FDW projects have more experiences to share about this topic.

Is there anything that you would like to share with other PPP practitioners?

Always work demand-driven, try to give your partners the space they need, and be open-minded when it comes to new solutions and ideas. Your project will benefit from creativity and flexibility!

Want to know more ins & outs about this PPP? Click here for the project profile.