Half of coffee washing stations operate below capacity- report

About 50 per cent of coffee washing stations in the country are operating below capacity, a situation that has affected the country’s coffee export volumes, a new study has revealed.
A farmer prepares to ferry red coffee cherries to a washing station. (File)
A farmer prepares to ferry red coffee cherries to a washing station. (File)

About 50 per cent of coffee washing stations in the country are operating below capacity, a situation that has affected the country’s coffee export volumes, a new study has revealed.

The study on the challenges in the fully-washed coffee value chain, which was conducted by the National Agriculture Export Board (Naeb) and International Growth Centre (IGC), indicates that out of 229 coffee washing stations, only 199 are active but operating at 50 per cent of their capacity.

This is a decline compared to 2013 when the washing stations (202) were operating at 55 per cent of their capacity, while 197 of the active washing stations operated at 60 per cent in 2012.

The study also indicates that the majority (60 per cent) of the washing stations lack funding.

These challenges also compromise fully-washed coffee quality and thus, affect export revenues, Rocco Macchiavello, a consultant with the IGC, and author of the report, told The New Times.

Macchiavello called for creation of strong linkages between farmers and coffee washing stations to help improve the situation.

Despite the attractive prices for fully-washed coffee on the international market, only about 40 per cent of Rwanda’s coffee exports are of the fully-washed type.

In 2014, Rwanda fetched about $59.68 million from coffee exports, up from $54.9 million in 2013, according to the latest statistics from the National Bank of Rwanda.

However, this could have risen by almost 20 per cent if all exported coffee was fully-washed coffee, Dr Richard Newfarmer, the IGC Rwanda director, said.

“If Rwanda doubled the amount of fully-washed coffee exports, earnings could increase by 10-20 per cent; holding constant the current total coffee exports volumes,” he said.

According to Marcelo Pereire Magnere, a coffee quality consultant based in Ethiopia, value addition is substantially high for fully-washed coffee compared to ordinary coffee, and as a result it generates about $0.70 more per kilogramme on the world market.

Magnere called for farmer inclusion in coffee strategy development, and in other coffee sector activities throughout the value chain, especially marketing.

“This, and continuous stakeholder training, will help improve quality and farmers earnings,” he told The New Times in an exclusive interview.

Experts say it is also important to make it easy for farmers to access funding to improve production processes to boost output.

More challenges

Dr Celestin Gatarayiha, the head of the coffee chain division at Naeb, said middlemen are the dominant players, adding that there is no direct link between coffee washing stations, exporters and farmers.

Gatarayiha said the situation makes quality control hard, making it difficult to certify and label the various coffees “because one cannot trace their origin.

He added that coffee washing stations do not have specific zones of operation, which creates unnecessary competition and makes it difficult to streamline the sector’s extension service system.

And according to  Amb George William Kayonga, the Naeb chief executive officer, most of the challenges the sector is facing will be addressed under the new coffee policy.

The policy aims at streamlining the coffee sector to improve output and quality along the value chain.

“We want to encourage value addition among industry players to make our coffee competitive,” Kayonga said.

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