Rugombo Agrobusiness, is a private enterprise dealing with the cultivation, processing and marketing of patchouli oil, a flowering plant of the mint family, primarily cultivated for use as a fragrance in perfumes, cosmetics and incense. Patchouli oil extracts fetch up to US$94 per Kg in international markets, and since Cibitoke in rural Burundi has climate and soils that favour its production, it has potential as an important crop for the country’s economy.

It is this possibility that inspired the African Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF) to invest US$450,000 in Rugombo Agrobusiness, to support the delivery of patchouli seedlings and related extension services to 3,000 farmers in Cibitoke.

Burundian farmer Amos Mbaye has been cultivating coffee for most of his life. However, in monetary terms, the hard work has not quite paid off for him. While coffee fetches attractive prices in international markets, the most Amos has ever made from his 0.5ha farming enterprise has been US$40 per year.

With such meager earnings, the 64-year-old struggled to feed and educate his six children. This was until 2017, when he and other farmers in Cibitoke Province, north of the country’s capital Bujumbura, were introduced to patchouli.

Today, Rugombo Agribusiness processes more than 0.3 MT of patchouli oil, which is exported to French perfume manufacturer Astier Demarest, benefiting farmers like Mbaye, who now earns US$228 every year from about 1,080 Kgs of patchouli flower harvested.

“With the additional income, I can now provide for my children adequately,” he said. “I also plan to upgrade the roof on my house from thatch to iron sheets,” he added.

Encouraged by the better income, Amos now plans to increase the area of land under patchouli to reap even better revenues.