By Geoffrey Wakibi
Driving 70 km north of Kigali city towards the Northern Province, in Rulindo district is Sorwathe Ltd, Rwanda’s oldest private Tea factory. The tea plantation, located in Kinihira Sector was the first private tea factory in Rwanda and remained so until 2004 when the Government of Rwanda commenced privatizing other tea factories. Sorwathe produces both CTC type and Orthodox type Black and Green Tea, Organic Tea, Semi fermented Tea and Specialty Tea. It also has various types of Value added tea packs and gift packs.
Currently Sorwathe produces around 3 million kgs of tea per annum and it accounts for around 14% of Rwanda’s production. It employs around 2500 workers directly and purchases leaf from 4500 small tea farmers/outgrowers who are all members of the Assopthe Tea Cooperative.
Sorwathe’s industrial block is 280 hectares of tea land and has 519 hectares of forest. The major shareholder of Sorwathé is Tea Importers Inc, an American company that has been involved in Rwanda’s tea sector since the late 1960s.
The first section of tea planted in this area was a 16 hectare block in the Kiruri swamp in Cyohoha in 1965 with USAID funding which exists up to now.
The first plucking was on the 5th of August 1968. This leaf was being taken to Mulindi Factory which is around 50 miles away.
In 1972, the Government of After negotiating for three years, the Government of Rwanda and
Tea Importers Inc. entered into a joint venture agreement on the 25th of March 1975. Tea Importers undertook to build a factory at Kinihira and was given a lease of (1978-1981) and both of them planned out the construction, machinery and infrastructure.
The General Manager after Mr. Boyd Moss was Mr. Norman Ridpath. Mr.Cally Alles came back in 1996 and was the Director General up to March 2012. The current President of Sorwathe is Mr. Andrew.Wertheim and the Director General is Mr. Rohith Peiris.
In 1975, Kinihira where the factory is now situated was a typical sleepy village of Rwanda. Due to the infrastructure development by the GOR and the sustainable corporate culture of Sorwathe, it is now a well developed village with a modern hospital, courts and police station. Sorwathe not only creates around 10,000 job opportunities directly and indirectly, it also believes in developing its employees, community and environment around the factory and plantation.
From the beginning, Sorwathe and Tea Importers understood the importance of good corporate citizenship and bettering the lives of its employees and the community in which it would operate. Some of Sorwathe projects for the community include the following;
• Water project to Kinihira. Originally, there was a big crisis of clean water in the area. This project initiated and funded by Sorwathe has helped to install long-lasting water and sanitation solutions for people living in Kinihira. To date, hundreds of citizens in the area have got access to life-saving clean water.
• Established a medical clinic with assistance from USAID. Sorwathe gives priority to the health safety of their employees.
Primary and special health care is a big need everywhere in the country and it is for this reason that Sorwathe Tea factory is very interested in giving assistance in accessing health care to the citizens in their areas of operation.
• Sorwathe has voluntarily repaired and maintained the roads in the region in a bid to ease movement of people and their goods within and out.
• In partnership with Rotary International, started an adult literacy program for the local population that taught over 15,000 adults
Sorwathe was also the premier private donor toward construction of the Rwandan National Library, which opened on October 5, 2012 in a ceremony lead by the First Lady.
• Sorwathe’s commitment to education continues today through:
- Scholarships for secondary education. Currently there are 19 scholarship holders selected from the poorest of the poor in the area.
- Construction of schools for Early Childhood Education and providing a nutritious meal for the preschool students. Currently there are 3 preschools.
- Computer Laboratory: In a joint project, Sorwathe tea factory and Taylors of Harrogate, UK have supported the construction of a computer lab for the Kinihira Secondary School and aim to provide 50 computers to this school. This school had only 5 computers used by around 500 students.