Jose Kawashima is a Japanese coffee expert currently working with the National Agricultural Export Board (NAEB). Kawashima, also the representative director and president of All for Coffee Limited, a Japan-based global coffee company, says it is important for Rwanda to promote a coffee drinking culture and ensure quality along the value chain to make the country’s coffee more competitive. Business Times’ Peterson Tumwebaze caught up with Kawashima, also the founder of MiCafetoc, an organisation dedicated to building a new coffee culture, last week. The interview focused on sector issues and what Rwanda should do to boost targets. Excerpts;
You have been a coffee agronomist for over 40 years and have also been involved in the selection of the best coffees globally. How would you rank Rwanda’s coffee?
Rwanda’s coffee is unique and we are currently thinking more about this uniqueness bearing in mind that over 70 per cent of countries produce coffee.
As someone who has dedicated his life toward building a ‘new coffee culture’ around the world, how can the country increase its coffee exports?
First of all, farmers always look for high prices. However for buyers, they always seek high quality but the lowest possible price. Therefore being able to balance the two is very important for the industry. More so, Rwanda must focus on increasing domestic consumption by leveraging the thriving tourism industry.
Expanding the gift and institution markets is one way the country can broaden its coffee markets. The annual national Cup of Excellence competition is equally important in promoting coffee consumption culture among Rwandans.
Implementation of strong quality benchmarks along the entire production process is very important. This often involves the selection of coffee plantations, lots and trees; the harvest of only ripe cherries, traditional bean selection techniques, sun drying and hand sorting, air transport, fixed-temperature deoxygenation storage, and special packaging. These, and ensuring the product is transported properly and reaches the destination without delay, will help the country to earn more from the sector.
How do you plan to work with local farmers on improving coffee quality?
We are aware of the challenges Rwanda is currently facing when it comes to the coffee business.
Lack of knowledge about coffee varieties; mixing several varieties in one plantation, and lack of market information, among other challenges, limit the country’s potential to market its unique coffee and spur exports. These are some of the areas we shall be addressing to ensure farmers know how to protect plantations and the environment. You have to work toward changing farmers’ mind-set to improve the production process from the farm to the market to increase returns from coffee exports.
Farmers and other sector stakeholders need to understand that for one to produce the best coffee requires good soils and strict quality controls. To expand the future prospects of coffee, MiCafeto has created clear quality standards as we continue to explore all the possibilities and to challenge existing limitations to offer our customers including those in Rwanda truly the best coffee possible.
My role, therefore, is to ensure stakeholders, especially farmers, understand the importance of improving the quality of Rwandan coffee. It is essential that Rwandan coffee becomes famous for its quality.