The National Agricultural Board (NAEB) is seeking to leverage the growing number of coffee washing stations to improve the quality and volumes of exports in a bid to boost the country’s foreign exchange receipts from coffee.
Speaking during a strategic planning meeting with farmers and owners of washing stations yesterday, George Kayonga, director general of NAEB asked stakeholders to coordinate within themselves and the board to deal with problems that undermine the quality of coffee.
“If no one tells us problems faced in the coffee washing stations, how shall we know about them and solve them?” We only get to know [about washing stations] that worked and those which didn’t at the end of the season. So it’s important we solve these issues because they have an impact on our production,” he said.
Celestin Gatarayiha, the head of coffee division at NAEB, said that the number of coffee washing stations went up from 210 in 2012 to the current 220, but most of them operate below capacity.
He said that out of 220 washing stations, only 28 operate at full capacity while 80 of them operate at between 50-100 per cent of their installed capacity. About 91 stations operate below 50 per cent capacity while 21 stations didn’t work at all.
“If all the washing stations were working at 100 per cent efficiency, they would have led to an increase in volumes produced by over 70 per cent,” he noted.
During the meeting, it was noted that some of the washing stations were located far from coffee growing areas, which has often forced farmers to move long distances or simply abandon washing their coffee.
Coffee, one of Rwanda’s leading export revenue earner after tourism and tea, performed poorly last year because of low international prices and prolonged drought.
International prices stood at an average $3.67 (Rwf 2,494) per kilogramme for fully washed coffee last year, down from $6 (Rwf 4,044) during the 2012 season.
Gatarayiha said total revenues from coffee over 2013 stood at $55.2 million (Rwf37.2 bn) from 19,969 tons exported, less than the $69.5 million ($46.8 bn) that was earned in 2012.
Last year’s farm gate price for coffee was set at Rwf143 per kg of cherries at the beginning of the season compared to Rwf170 per kg in 2012.
The stakeholders were in agreement at the end of the meeting that managers of coffee washing stations needed to engage the export board to see that they work to increase production this season.