Scottish oil tycoon hands over Rwandan tea factory to 5,000 local farmers

Sir Ian, whose fortune is estimated at around £1.8 billion, was in Rwanda to hand over the Mulindi factory to those who grow the tea, which will further increase direct profits for growers.

The Wood Foundation, the charity set up by the North East family, acquired the tea factory with Lord Sainsbury’s Gatsby Charitable Foundation in 2012 after the factory was privatized by the Rwandan government.

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Since the purchase, when 45% stake was given to small farmers, around £11m ($15m) has been invested in factory improvements and agricultural training, with the foundation helping to build markets and run the business.

Small-scale tea farmers working near the Mulindi tea factory, which is now fully run and controlled by those who grow the crop after Scottish oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood handed over his shares in the plant. PIC: A Campsie.

With Sir Ian now satisfied that the factory is a well-run business, the philanthropists’ 55 per cent stake has been given to the farmers to run themselves.

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Rwanda’s rock star welcomes oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood

Sir Ian, who attended the handover ceremony at the tea factory with Prime Minister of Rwanda Édouard Ngirente, said: “Lord Sainsbury and I are very proud and pleased to be working with the tea farmers at Mulindi.

“It was difficult at first, but with the investments and significant training programs, farmers’ performance and income have greatly improved.

Sir Ian Wood at an awards ceremony in Mulindi in 2018 where he presented prizes to tea farmers including this cow. PIC: A Campsie.

“We are very pleased to be handing over a well-established, successful company and will continue to provide support for a transitional period.”

Tea is an increasingly important crop in Rwanda, bringing in around £70 million ($93 million) in national revenue in 2019/2020 and directly employing around 60,000 people. Small farmers dominate the supply of the harvest.

Sir Ian was a frequent visitor to Mulindi, with the tycoon receiving a “rock star welcome” at an awards ceremony for farmers in the shadow of the factory in 2018, which was attended by thousands, some walking through the night to get to the event .

The tycoon has been open in the past about the challenges of getting the factory in good shape.

Sir Ian Wood and Rwandan Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente at the official handover ceremony. PIC: Contributed.

Since the philanthropic investment in the processing facility, its capacity has increased from 60 tons to 120 tons of leafy greens per day.

Meanwhile, the average annual gross income for a farmer has roughly doubled in eight years to $2,881 (about £2,188) in 2021.

More than 5,000 farmers have been trained in best practice tea management skills, with farmers being paid $3.1 million (£2.3 million) in bonuses on top of their Greenleaf earnings.

dr Gerardine Mukeshimana, Rwanda’s Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources, said the handover was a “historic moment” for Mulindi’s tea factory.

She said: “I’m so happy to see this empowerment at the rural level. “

She said the exit of the Wood Foundation and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation underscored their “commitment to empowering farmers” and their “trust in the people and the country of Rwanda”.

Sir Ian is best known for his work at Wood Group, an oil services company which he transformed from a humble Aberdeen company into one that operates in 50 countries and employs around 35,000 people.

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Chrissy Callahan

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