Its 10 AM on a Monday morning and Anastase Bizimana, President of Abakundakawa Rushashi, a cooperative of coffee farmers in Kageyo, Rushashi Sector, Gakenke District in Northern Province, is watching workers washing and drying coffee produce.
This is part of preparing the produce for further processing which ends in exports.
Founded in 1999, Abakundakawa has for years been expanding and now has more than 2,000 members who include 900 women and 288 youth, operating in five sectors of Rushashi, Minazi, Gashenyi and Gakenke and Coko.
They produced 204 tonnes last year with the cooperative cashing in Rwf1.07 billion. The year was so so profitable members earned a bonus of Rwf18.9 million. To put this into perspective, it’s more than many white-collar job sectors.
Workers during coffee processing activities inside Rwanda Trading Company firm at Special Economic Zone. Sam Ngendahimana.
Coffee is a major cash crop in Rwanda, and over the years has grown from being just a popular crop in certain areas to become a “family tradition” for some families across the country.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources, the annual coffee income has increased from $38 million in 1994 to more than $62.4 million in 2020.
Behind the transformation are the Government and its partners aiming to promote agricultural exports, and the farmers’ mounting interest in the crop, which is currently grown on 42,000 hectares across most provinces in the country at an altitude of less than 1,900 metres.
“Coffee is the main crop in our district; a resident to build a house without coffee revenues is not easy nowadays; so thanks to the coffee here, people live a comfortable life and are able to pay for their children education, insurance, among others,” stated Antoine Kaneza, the Manager of the Abakundakawa Rushashi in Gakenke.
Jean Claude Mugabo, father of five hailing from Kabuye Village, Rwarenga Cell, Remera Sector, Gatsibo District, in Eastern Province started coffee farming in 2006 with 600 trees; today he has 6,700 trees on three hectares, and every reaping season between March and June harvests around 10 tonnes of coffee worth Rwf2.3 million.
Cecile Kagirinka, 64, resident in Kigarama Village, Rwarenga Cell, Remera Sector, Gatsibo District, has been a coffee farmer since 1983, and she said this crop has helped her raise her children and pay for their education. One of her children has already graduated from university.
Kagirinka and Mugabo are one of the farmers whose agribusiness was in 2017 boosted by Project for Rural Income through Export (PRICE) implemented by National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB) since 2012.
Among others, some farmers got technical assistance, others grants and other training.
“I used to get 940kg in 2017 when we started getting training in 2017, but as we speak, I get 2.4 tonnes from 1,502 coffee trees planted on 1.5 hectares,” said Kagirinka, who said her children have become even bigger coffee farmers than herself.
“For instance, we did not know that grasshoppers are dangerous in coffee plantations either. So they taught us to grow some plants that the pests could eat so they do not harm the coffee, we have also learned that we have to put mulches, which prevent termites, it also keeps the trees hydrated,” she added.
After the training, Kagirinka now has one modern breed cow, has two plots of land she bought Rwf2.2 million.
Jean Bosco Bahutiraho, resident from Rwamabenga Village, Butezi Cell, Gahara Sector in Kirehe District, is one of farmers who have seen the project plant coffee on their lands free of charge. At least 1,500 hectares were planted in districts of Rulindo, Gakenke, Nyamagabe and Kirehe.
The latest and first harvest of Bahutiraho was 150 kilogrammes since 2017 planting season.
“They dug holes, put in fertilizer, and then brought seedlings and they planted grass we now use as mulches, without any cost,” clarified Straton Ngerageze, whose 3,300 coffee trees were planted by the project.
Abakundakawa Rushashi was in 2017 accorded support to increase the planted area and to get certifications for their coffee, and this has positively affected farmers and members, according to its President Bizimana.
“Certification is very important because buyers like to buy a certified coffee; it shows that the product has adequate standards and is accepted at the international level,” he noted.
The cooperative started with the production of one container of 17 tonnes of coffee but now has grown to produce 10 containers in three months.
Now the cooperative has already paid back a loan of Rwf48 million they had since 2008, and are now installing infrastructure at their site, including a warehouse and a guesthouse.
According to Bizimana, the growing interest of farmers to plant more coffee is evident in the fact that last year the cooperative had 100,000 coffee seedlings, and they run short when they tried to distribute them to the members.
Therese Nyirangwabije is President of Twongerekawa Coko, operating in Coko Sector, Gakenke District, which has more than 120 members, with a first-level coffee processing plant.
Being a daughter of coffee farmers, Nyirangwabije said she started growing coffee when she was 12.
Previously, there was gender inequality in coffee industry, but Nyirwangwabije says that is no longer the case with women represented both as farmers and cooperatives’ management.
Theopiste Nyiramahoro, Chairperson of Rwanda Coffee Cooperatives’ Federation (RCCF), said that further change has resulted from benchmarking where some farmers were sent to Kenya for training, while some cooperatives were facilitated to attend coffee exhibitions.
Rwf60 million was allocated in the programme aiming to provide packaging bags for coffee exporting farmers.
Financed by International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), PRICE is scheduled to conclude its operations in December 2020.
In eight years of operations, the project has promoted export of cash crops such as coffee, tea, fruits, vegetables, plus sericulture and essential oils, through grants, training, and supporting cooperatives to get certification of their produce for export.
Maurice Habiyambere, PRICE project manager, said, “When you venture in taking a loan, we give you a grant worth 50 per cent of your loan in order to promote agricultural exports.”
Habiyambere explained that the project was started in 2012 with plans to last five years, but it was later extended to year 2020. The first period of the project was worth $53 million, 50 percent being loan and the other half a grant from IFAD to Government of Rwanda.Follow DeDiosNsabimana