Rwanda must enhance traditional ways of milling coffee cherries to improve quality

Rwanda has just hosted the first “Cup of Excellence” event in Africa with many reported improvements on the Rwandan coffee production including its marketing.
A farmer in Karongi District,Western Rwanda,drying his coffee. (Photo / E. Kwibuka)
A farmer in Karongi District,Western Rwanda,drying his coffee. (Photo / E. Kwibuka)

Rwanda has just hosted the first “Cup of Excellence” event in Africa with many reported improvements on the Rwandan coffee production including its marketing.

This has been good news for the country. The “Cup of Excellence” is an international contest that identifies the best quality coffee from renowned producing countries.

Despite Rwanda’s measures to stick to the production of speciality coffee quality coffee, there is a growing outcry among coffee dealers who are asking the coffee board to abolish the production of traditionally processed.

The ordinary coffee, as specialists in Rwanda commonly call it, is processed at some farmers’ homes using local milling machines and traditional ways of drying it on mats or tents, sometimes laid on their ever-dusty compounds under a burning sun.

About 70 percent of the coffee harvested in Rwanda is still processed at the small scale farmers homes explained Mr. Malliavin Nzamurambaho the chief coffee quality controller with the national coffee board (OCIR-Café).

“You can’t ban the practice for good now,” he said referring to the habit of processing coffee at the farmers’ homes.

His point is that improving the traditional practice has to be a process. First by increasing the number of coffee washing stations in the country at which  farmers can take their coffee cherries to under-go professional coffee washing; then to sensitize the people on the importance of having their coffee washed at these stations.

Nzamurambaho told The New Times that the country has only 116 coffee washing stations. He is concerned that if the country does not get enough coffee washing stations, the production of bad coffee will go on and it is a loss for Rwandans because they sell it at low costs.

“It will always affect the price whenever we produce ordinary coffee,” he says.

But some coffee dealers in the country say OCIR-Café is to blame for not maximizing efforts to ban the practice and ensure that all the country’s coffee is processed at coffee washing stations.

“The (coffee) board’s technicians should work hard to abolish the machines that farmers use at home,” said François Bakareke, Director of production for Rusenyi Coffee Growers, a private coffee company in the western District of Karongi.

“The officials should do more supervision in the villages.”
Bakareke and several other owners of washing stations in the Karongi District said last month that they were receiving less than expected coffee cherries at their washing stations because some farmers were processing their coffees at home.

The dealers say this affects the industry in that it lowers the quality of the coffee and ultimately the reputation of the country’s coffee.

They say that some local coffee dealers, commonly called “abamamyi”, also take advantage of the farmers’ poverty and pay them money for the coffee before it is ready for harvest.

When the harvest period comes, the farmers process the coffee already bought at home for the ‘abamamyi’ who never care about the quality of coffee they buy.

“The practice decreases the average quality of coffee from Rwanda,” explains Clet Uzabakiriho who manages Musenyi Coffee Washing Station in Musasa village, in the Karongi District.

The shortage of coffee washing stations in the country is not the only reason why farmers process their coffee at home. Some of them who sell their coffee to ‘abamamyi’ cite delayed payments at Coffee Washing Stations (CWS), their early closures, and lower coffee prices; as some of the reasons why they prefer to process and sell their coffees from home.

“If the coffee washing stations work effectively, no one can continue with the traditional practice,” said Anatole Mbonimpa, one of the coffee farmers in Gishyita, Karongi District.

During this year’s coffee campaign Mbonimpa took 100 kilograms of his coffee cherries to the washing station later selling them at Rwf 120 per kilogramme of cherries.

But the man who owns 200 trees of coffee didn’t want to take all his coffee to a washing station. He remained with some coffee cherries at home which he sold at15 kilogrammes of parchments at Rwf 700 per kilogramme to the ‘abamamyi’.

“What we need is a good price,” he explains.
The National Coffee Board (Ocir-café) has been sensitizing the farmers to give up traditional practices of processing coffee though a lot of more sensitization needs to be undertaken, according to owners of coffee washing stations.

These call them-selves professional coffee dealers and they want the government to ban the production of ordinary coffees and stop abamamyi’s business in the country.

“Ordinary coffee simply doesn’t help, it doesn’t bring dollars,” said Uzabakiriho.

The Rwandan coffee sector is growing with positive indicators in production of coffee standard levels, according to the Rwanda Coffee Authority (RCA). The country’s coffee exportations almost doubled in the first half of this year from last year’s 3.193 tons to 5.512 tons, this year.

In only the first half of 2008 Rwanda generated US$ 15 million (Frw 8.1 billion) from coffee exports.

The chief coffee quality controller with the national coffee board says that the country’s policy towards increasing the production of quality coffee is to increase the number of coffee washing stations.

Since the coffee business has turned out to be so profitable, at least basing even on Rwanda’s current experience, it is probably time for both government and the private sector to exploit the business to the maximum by producing more high quality coffee.

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