The future of coffee production and coffee subsector development in general depends on youth engagement as, currently, the crop is predominantly produced by an aging population, the National Agriculture Export Development Board (NAEB) and Agriterra have said.
Agriterra is a Dutch non-government organisation, which strives for economic development through agricultural organisations and cooperatives.
They made the observation on Thursday, February 20, as they urged the youth to engage in Rwandan agribusiness especially the coffee subsector.
The call comes amid concerns that the average age of the people producing coffee is 51 as per a census carried out in 2015 by NAEB, said Issa Nkurunziza, Traditional Commodities Division Manager at NAEB.
“That shows that people engaged in the subsector are old. When the old people are gone and they did not interest their descendants about coffee there will be a problem,” he said.
Officials said that those aged above 60 do not have energy to look after coffee plantations or have difficulties adopting of new technologies.
Nkurunziza said that coffee farmers in Rwanda are now estimated at more than 400,000.
Among the reasons that limit youth engagement in coffee farming or its entire value chain, Nkuruziza cited farmers who are old but are not willing to let their children manage the crop.
Also, he said, there is a mentality of the youth whereby they have not yet understood the opportunities in coffee.
Meanwhile, Nkurunziza said that, on average, a coffee tree produces two kilogrammes of cherries, yet, there is potential to produce eight kilogrammes if good farming practices were adopted.
“We need to have lower average age of people engaged in coffee subsector so that it gets invigorated and we are able to achieve intended yields,” he said.
“Sometimes, there are some young people who are not doing productive work, yet there are opportunities in growing coffee. But, [with the youth], we can expand coffee plantations, or optimise yields of the already existing plantations,” he said.
Trainings in how coffee is grown, nurtured so that it gets more productive, is one of the interventions that Nkurunziza said the country will provide to the youth.
“We also intend to encourage the youth to work together, and with their parents so that they increase coffee yields, and get more profit, instead of sitting and complain that they lack jobs, yet there are opportunities in coffee,” he said.
Opportunities in coffee value chain
Jasper Spikker, Agriterra’s country representative for Rwanda and Ivory Coast, said that focus on the quality and distinctiveness of coffee from cherry to cup (coffee ready to drink) are important.
“[For the youth], we hope that the opportunities for jobs and for business exist along the [coffee] value chain,” he said.
“[Young] people can explore opportunities by opening coffee shops, undertake training to become a barista to make the best coffee you can imagine, and different ways of packaging,” he said.
Other opportunities, he said, are in marketing to help tell the stories behind specialty coffee production.
NAEB’s Nkurunziza said they want to show the youth the opportunities that are across the entire coffee value chain, including growing, processing, and marketing it.
“We want the youth to have the mindset that coffee production is a business, we should make efforts to harvest more with little investment,” he said.
Benjamin Rusizanibakwe, a member of the Rwanda Youth in Agribusiness Forum, said that low coffee produce, and coffee plantations that are not taken care of are due to the fact that farmers are mostly older people.
“They (old farmers) do not do coffee farming activities as a business that can make them develop, they are just growing the crop,” he said.
Rusizanibakwe said that RYAF is training 26,000 coffee farmers in nine districts through Farmer Field School (FFS), observing that “that is an opportunity we got because are able to come together.”
Nkurunziza said that over 21,000 tonnes of green coffee were exported last year and generating over $68 million (about Rwf62 billion) in revenues, while 26,000 tonnes of green coffee are expected to be exported this year for $80 million (about Rwf73 billion).Follow https://twitter.com/EmNtirenganya