Why Rwanda’s coffee ranks among the best globally

The impressive performance of Rwanda’s coffee at the global stage is a result of the new strategies by implemented by the National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB), sector players have said.
Fully-washed coffee by Rusizi, Lisa and Mashesha coffee washing stations was selected among the best globally. / File
Fully-washed coffee by Rusizi, Lisa and Mashesha coffee washing stations was selected among the best globally. / File

The impressive performance of Rwanda’s coffee at the global stage is a result of the new strategies by implemented by the National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB), sector players have said. Rwanda’s beans were ranked the second-best quality coffee globally by an independent international jury of coffee experts in New York, USA about two weeks ago.

The country beat eight other competitors to the “Best of the Best” coffee accolade on grounds of the beans’ aromatic richness, complexity, balance, elegance and aroma intensity and strength, according to the judges.

Rwanda’s coffee was competing with beans from Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Guatemala, India, Nicaragua and Honduras, known to be the best producers of coffee in the world during the United Nations evaluation of the world’s highest quality coffee lots grown in nine countries. The coffee lots in the competition were produced by Rusizi, Lisa and Mashesha coffee washing stations and were selected among the 27 of the world’s best lots from the 2016/2017 harvests in the nine countries.

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Amb Valentine Rugwabiza, Rwanda’s permanent representative to the UN (right) and Emmanuel Akiba, the manager RWACOF washing station received awards in New York. / Courtesy.

Commenting on the awards, Jean Paul Ndamwemera, the managing director of Lisa Coffee Washing Station that scooped the second best lot award, said the accolade was a result of the ongoing strategies to improve coffee quality along value chain.

“Winning at international stage builds confidence and trust among buyers about the country’s coffee. We were recognised for offering high quality coffee beans, thanks to efforts by the NAEB to support farmers and other stakeholders to improve the value chain,” he said. He urged farmers to take advantage of the existing facilities and the coffee washing stations to ensure quality.

Grace Umuhorakeye, from the Association of Coffee Exporters, said the development would boost farmer morale and help increase production and quality, making Rwanda’s coffee more competitive on the global market.

Theopista Nyiramahoro, a coffee farmer from COCAMU Co-operative, said positioning Rwanda as a specialty coffee producer will increase the crop’s contribution to national development. “It means we can earn more foreign exchange from the crop and increase export revenues,” she noted.

Rwanda fetched $58.5 million (about Rwf49.7 billion) from coffee exports last financial year - July 2016 to June 2017.

NAEB targets to increase fully-washed coffee export volumes to more than 50 per cent from 42 per cent in 2014 to make the sector more competitive and profitable. The agro-exports body is currently working with farmers to revamp the old coffee plantations and promote modern practices to help increase yields and quality.

Rwanda’s specialty coffee has attracted a lot of interest in Japan, and shipments to the country, the fourth largest importer of coffee in the world, increased over the past few years.

Recently, NAEB signed a partnership deal with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to support farmers and help them improve coffee quality. Under the programme, JICA works with selected co-operatives countrywide to strengthen the coffee value chains as part of efforts to spur yields as well as quality along the coffee value chain.

The project is aimed at improving quality as well as increasing coffee export receipts and farmers’ household income. It is expected to put in place robust and effective structures through which to coordinate farmer co-operatives.

NAEB has been emphasising value addition as well as encouraging farmers and co-operatives to take advantage of coffee washing stations to enhance quality.

Coffee is Rwanda’s leading export crop and has contributed an average of 24 per cent to total agricultural exports over the last decade. The crop supports livelihoods of over 400,000 farmers countrywide.

Five year strategic plan

Coffee is one of Rwanda’s key cash crops, representing more than 24 per cent of the country’s total export. NAEB is implementing a five-year strategic plan aimed at achieving an annual average export growth rate of 29 per cent, translating to $104.3 million by 2018, from $60.9 million in 2013.

The plan also seeks to enhance productivity and quality to make the country’s coffee industry more competitive. NAEB targets to increase productivity from 2.4 kilogrammes per coffee tree in 2013 to 3.1 kilos by 2018.

The board also seeks to increase fully-washed coffee to 71 per cent by 2018.

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