Efforts are underway to further improve the quality of Rwanda’s coffee, the Deputy Director General in charge of Exports at the National Agriculture Export Development Board (NAEB), Magnifique Ndambe Nzaramba, has said.
Nzaramba was responding to American coffee exporter Grace Hightower De Niro’s request for assurance on how the country’s coffee quality will be maintained.
The American actress and philanthropist sells Rwandan coffee to about 40 suppliers in the US and plans to extend supply to Japan and China. She also plans to open up shops in Rwanda with her company, “Grace Hightower & Coffee of Rwanda”.
Hightower de Niro was in the country last month to attend a “Let’s Talk Coffee” conference.
The two-day conference was convened to discuss the potential of Rwanda’s high-quality coffee on the international market and how to promote it.
“Rwanda’s high-quality coffee is a symbol of hope for the country as well as a path to economic empowerment,” Hightower de Niro said.
Information from NAEB indicates that the capacity of coffee washing stations decreased from 60 per cent in 2012 to 50 per cent in 2013.
Also the target of 35 per cent fully washed coffee in 2013 was not achieved. Only 33 per cent was realised.
Nzaramba said the main challenge coffee growers are facing is fluctuation in prices.
He cited insufficient production of coffee cherries, high operating costs and weak management skills among the other challenges.
“To compete internationally, coffee farmers have to embrace good agricultural practices,” Nzaramba said.
“We have to increase our processing capacity and improve on our export logistics,” he told The New Times last week.
NAEB director general Amb. George Kayonga, urges all coffee stakeholders, especially farmers and coffee washing station owners, to put a lot of effort in coffee production and processing so as to achieve both quality and quantity targets.
Agriculture minister Dr Agnes Kalibata says her ministry is ready to support coffee farmers in ensuring quality output.
The role of coffee in economy
According to NAEB, Arabica and Robusta coffee represent between 12 and 17 per cent of the country’s total exports.
Currently, more than 400,000 smallholder farmers produce coffee and depend on the international market. About 42,000 hectares of land in Rwanda is cultivated with coffee.
“Rwanda’s coffee industry has a positive reputation and this has created demand for its high quality bourbon Arabica coffee. Long-term relationships with household names such as Starbucks and Marks & Spencer have the potential to complete the transformation of the industry,” NAEB said in an official statement.
Nzaramba emphasised the need to focus more on the use of fertilisers to boost production.
“Besides, more than six cooperatives have been supported to start processes for organic and fair-trade coffee,” he says.
Rwanda’s coffee strategy targets a production of 33,000 tonnes of coffee, with 19,000 tonnes of this fully washed.
This was to generate exports of $115 million by 2012.
In line with this strategy, five priority programmes worth $9 million have been identified.
They include improvement of farming practices and management, a turnaround support programme for upcoming coffee washing stations, capacity building of private exporters for better sale and distribution, implementation of a census and GIS study of all coffee producing regions, implementing new activities and partnerships for roasting in China and the Middle East.
The support of the five key priority programmes through other actions for the further development of the coffee industry (production, processing, sales and marketing, research and development, infrastructure) will cost $42.8million.
NAEB is responsible for supporting coffee production and processing by providing technical assistance and planting material to farmers.
Rwanda is an exporting member of the International Coffee Organisation (ICO) whose mission is to strengthen the global coffee sector and promote its sustainable expansion in a market-based environment for the betterment of all participants in the coffee sector.
Rwanda’s coffee is also registered in the Alliance for Coffee Excellence (ACE).