More investment in scientific research, innovations and market outlets is needed if the country’s coffee industry is to thrive amid tight market competition, coffee experts have said.
The experts made the remarks, yesterday, at the opening of a two-day coffee research symposium in Kigali organised by the National Agriculture Export Board (NAEB).
The symposium drew participants from the US, UK, South Korea, South Africa, Kenya, Burundi, Uganda, among others.
Experts said limited scientific research, poor agronomic practices and rudimentary technological approaches in processing coffee are responsible for low prices fetched by local coffee on the international markets.
NAEB head of coffee production unit, Celestine Gatarayiha, said pests and diseases, as well as poor soil fertility, are responsible for less production of coffee in the country.
“Pests, diseases such as antestiabag, and poor soils are the reasons coffee farmers are still struggling to penetrate international markets,” Gatarayiha said.
Susan Jackles, a professor of chemistry, food and nutrition at Seattle University, said: “You have to ensure that farmers are sensitised on good farming practices, prevailing market conditions in terms of demand and supply to produce good quality coffee.”
Maraio Serracin, a coffee farmer and an agronomist at the US Rogers Family Company based in Africa, said ensuring quality coffee should be a collective responsibility of producers, suppliers and buyers.
“It’s important that everyone in the value chain understands that they have a core responsibility to improve the quality of coffee because it’s from producing quality products that they will drive profitability of the business,” he said.
Agriculture minister Agnes Kalibata called on stakeholders in the value chain to invest more in finding solutions to the challenges threatening the sector.
“You need to be specific, tell us what is not being done so that we can do it for sake of the development and success of the country’s coffee industry,” Dr Kalibata said.
NAEB director-general George William Kayonga said they are currently designing a definitive approach to tackle the challenges.
“We are engaging all stakeholders both at the grassroots and research level to come up with sustainable solutions for the sector. These will include more coffee washing plants, investing in field schools and equipping agronomists with tools to address poor farming practices,” Kayonga said.
Coffee contributes 17 per cent of Rwanda’s total exports, but the exports dropped with receipts of $50 million in the first 11 months of 2013. This means the crop will decline by 9 per cent from $61m in 2012 (only December statistics are yet to be released).
Currently, more than 400,000 smallholder farmers produce coffee and depend on the international market. About 42,000 hectares of land in Rwanda is cultivated with coffee.