“We managed to help Rwandan farmers launch a brand of premium coffee in the UK and we have so far helped them launch the brand in 1,000 stores across the United Kingdom,” explained Sir Tom Hunter, a Scottish philanthropist working to improve the quality of Rwandan coffee during his visit to Rwanda early this month.
Rwanda is set to host the global Cup of Excellence Competition from the 18th – 22nd August; a prestigious coffee competition and online auction of the best specialty coffees in the world. An event that will for the first time take place in Africa, coming after Rwanda’s success at last year’s Golden Cup competition.
Leading coffee producing countries that have previously hosted the event include; Brazil, Colombia, Costa-Rica and the Honduras. Coffee production is the mainstay of Rwanda’s economy, with exports going as far as the United States, China and Japan.
According to the Rwanda Coffee Authority (RCA), the coffee sector is thriving with indicators in production of coffee standard levels predicting a bright future.
“In the first half of this year US$ 15 million (Frw 8.1 billion) was generated from exporting 5.512 tons of coffee. This increase is double compared to that of last year’s US$6.8million (Frw 3.68 billion) when 3.193 tons were exported,” explained Alex Kanyankole RCA’s director general.
The latest brand launched ‘Rwandan Farmers’ joins the country’s other various popular brands; ‘Maraba’ and ‘Kanunu’ coffees; with the internationally sought after ‘Rwanda Blue Bourbon’(R) Coffee.
The ‘Rwanda Blue Bourbon’ is part of Starbucks Black Apron Exclusive (BAE) in a category of nine different premium coffees from around the globe.
The “blue” in the brand name refers to the blue-green colour of the unroasted cherries and Bourbon is named after the variety of the Arabica species of the plant.
Rwanda’s coffee production has stood its test of time; since the start of the last century, in 1904 when the country adopted coffee as its first industrial crop.
In 1964, OCIR CAFÉ –Rwanda’s first Coffee Development Authority was established. This authority still in existence today, is responsible for the development and promotion of the special coffee sector in Rwanda.
The uniqueness of Rwandan coffee is attributed to the dependable environmental conditions in which it is grown. The high altitude and volcanic soils on hills at 2000 meters above sea level make coffee growing possible.
The prominent coffee growing areas are; Akagera, Virunga, Kizi rift, around Lake Kivu and Lake Muhazi where soils are fertile and the climate is favorable. Butare located in the southern province is also scattered with coffee farms.
Before the coffee reaches global shelves, it under –goes various processing stages. To begin with, farmers pick the ripe cherries from the trees; these are sorted to remove any raw cherries.
Washing takes place at the coffee stations where the cherries are transformed into coffee beans which are in turn sorted for damages and then finally roasted to a brown colour.
A single washing station is supplied with cherries by about 3000 coffee growers. This implies that the rural populations the main suppliers, are the sole beneficiaries of coffee farming.
With the current poverty prevalence rates, coffee production is in no doubt the right approach of eradicating this problem.
According to OCIR Café’s official in charge of production and development; Clavier Gatwaza, 8 million coffee trees are planted countrywide on 33, 000hecatres of land.
“Rwanda’s coffee is second to none on the world market. Rwandans therefore ought to exploit this opportunity and produce more coffee in order to get more foreign exchange out of it,” Gatwaza said.
However, this position is well-deserved all being credited to the farmer’s involvement in cooperative societies. These societies create the shortest link in the supply chain from production to marketing.
This is mainly by providing farmers and business people with information and training that enables them to increase their productivity.
A successful example is the Rwanda Small Holders Specialty Coffee Company (RWASHOSCCO) a marketing and exporting company which provides key services to small holder cooperatives.
Farmers working within the vicinity of cooperatives benefit greatly from the company’s export profits after sales are made. This encourages farmers to work harder for greater reimbursements.
Different projects created by cooperative societies enable coffee farmers to increase productivity. Tree nurseries are planted to supply seedlings to the surrounding coffee growing populations.
Programmes to educate farmers on the advantages of good agricultural practices such as; timely application of fertilizers, pesticides, mulching and pruning; have been critical to the improvement of the quality of Rwandan coffee.
In cooperatives, a lot of value is added to coffee through the identification of exceptional variety of coffee which are sold at 2-3 times the normal specialty price to the international buyers.
Selling to the international specialty markets has enabled Rwanda’s small holder’s producers to maximize revenues. The trends in coffee production are promising with revenues from coffee exports contributing 50 percent of the country’s export sector.
“The increase has been due to the timely application of fertilizers, pesticides as well as mulching and pruning” the director general added, “and also the attractive prices offered to farmers have encouraged them to produce more coffee.”
So far 25% of this year’s exports have been specialty coffee- coffee that has zero defects and is not affected by price fluctuations on the international market.