The NationaL Agricultural Exports Development Board (NAEB) plans to have 80 per cent of coffee go through washing stations by 2018.
Dr Celestin Gatarayiha, coffee division manager at NAEB, said this is part of the Government’s deliberate plan to promote specialty coffee by increasing the number of washing stations in the country.
In 2002, Rwanda had no coffee going through coffee washing stations, which resulted into low quality coffee.
But, from 2002 to-date, Gatarayiha said, about 50 per cent of Rwanda’s coffee goes through the coffee washing stations.
We have seen that increasing the quantity of coffee that passes through washing stations enhanced the quality of our coffee, he said.
Gatarayiha was speaking yesterday in Kigali at a ceremony for official phase-out of CFC Project dubbed, “Sustainable Credit Guarantee Scheme to Promote Scaling up/out of Enhanced Coffee Processing Practices in Ethiopia and Rwanda,” a five-year project implemented since 2011.
“Our aim is to increase the quantity of fully washed coffee in such a way that, by 2018, we expect to have at least 80 per cent of our coffee being fully washed. Then, we will ensure sustained competition in terms of quality on international market,” he said.
The coffee manager noted that there are 272 coffee washing stations in the country, from zero in 2002, with 50 per cent of them owned by coffee cooperatives.
The project that wound down was funded by Common Fund for Commodities (CFC) at a tune of over $1.2 million (aboutRwf933 million).
For collateral aspect, the project had $2 million (about Rwf1.5 billion) to ease coffee cooperatives’ access to loans, whereby it covered 50 per cent of the guarantee that was required by the bank.
The project worked with 20 coffee cooperatives with coffee washing stations in Rwanda, where over 10 of them accessed loans.
It intended to ease cooperatives access to loans to help them effectively operate their washing stations.
Gatarayiha said the project trained over 600 farmers on how to improve coffee yields, quality, market linkages as well as skills in coffee washing stations management.
Denis Seudieu, chief economist at International Coffee Organisation, a UK-based organisation that deals with all issues regarding coffee on the global market that implemented the project, said the main achievement is in building the capacities of coffee farmers through their cooperatives in all aspects of cooperative management, including savings.
However, he noted that management of cooperatives remains one of the main challenges in Africa.
“By building the capacities of the cooperatives, I think we are caring for sustainability issue. The main aspect of sustainability is how coffee farmers can benefit from this activity and continue to grow coffee. By getting organised into a very sourceful and well managed cooperative, I think this is a way to achieve the sustainability,” he said.
Concorde Havugimana, the president of Tuzamurane, a coffee farmers’ cooperative in Gitambi Sector of Rusizi District, told The New Times that the project contributed to the improvement of their coffee quality.
Their cooperative owns two coffee washing stations that collect between 360 and 600 tonnes of coffee per year.
“Through the training from the project, we even embraced the growing of organic coffee and properly treated it from cherries to green coffee. As a result, for the 35 tonnes of organic coffee we sold, we earned over $7 a kilogramme compared to $3.5 to $4 a kilogramme before,” he said.
Ways to achieve the target
On various strategies to achieve the target, Gatarayiha said they include increasing the number of washing stations and building capacities of the already existing ones, through partnership with the private sector to increase coffee being treated at the washing stations.
In addition, he pointed out, there is a plan to improve collaboration between coffee farmers and the washing stations set up near those farmers.
This system, dubbed ‘Zoning,’ Gatarayiha said, is an important factor that will help enhance the quality of coffee.
Under the approach, farmers near the washing stations will be supplying them coffee. And those washing stations will help farmers not only through buying their produce, but also supporting them to increase produce, he said.
He also talked about another programme aimed to empower farmers and the washing stations on how to treat their coffee produce.
“If we work together with washing stations and farmers and embrace a common goal to enhance the quality of our coffee that is sought after on the international market, we will achieve that,” he said.
Sometimes during the season, cooperatives fail to get the necessary funding to purchase coffee cherries and process them, according to Gatarayiha.
Other challenges include inadequate skills to process the coffee, which farmers need to manage the coffee washing stations.
Gatarayiha said the start of the project in Rwanda was a way of streamlining some of these challenges that exist in the coffee sector.
In 2015, Rwanda produced 22,000 tonnes of green coffee from 16,000 tonnes in 2014. About 19,000 tonnes were exported generating about $62 million in 2015.