TEA FARMERS in Western Province have committed to increasing production to further uplift their livelihoods.
The farmers said this on Friday as they marked international Tea Farmers’ Day, celebrated at Nyabihu Tea Factory in Nyabihu District and at Rubaya Tea Factory in Ngorerero District.
The celebrations were organised by Rwanda Mountain Tea Ltd.
“Our cooperative is one of the strongest ones, when we started in 2002 as a cooperative, we had no space, we only had one expert employee and we counted losses due to failure to manage the cooperative. But as we celebrate now we have achieved a lot,” said Alfred Niyoyita, the president of the farmers cooperative, Cotragagi.
The cooperative has 27 employees, six transport vehicles and the tea quality has extremely improved, according to Niyoyita.
“Our economic status has improved and cooperative members’ livelihoods has changed for the better, some of our members own vehicles, built houses and are into livestock farming. Others have set up other income generating projects thanks to tea farming.”
However, he complained that gains from tea are still low for individual members compared to other farmers in the region because farmers have few shares in the cooperative.
Niyoyita appealed to government for support to enable them acquire loans to buy more shares.
“The price is still low compared to other East African countries, fixing the price is based on a certain coefficient, we take 35 per cent of international tea price while recent findings revealed that in Uganda they gain 50 per cent and, in Tanzania, 60 per cent,” Niyoyita said.
During the functions, outstanding tea farmers were given prizes, including cows.
Petronile Mukandekezi, one of the farmers, testified of how tea farming had improved her livelihood.
“I bought a house, my children are studying and I have no difficulties meeting family obligations,” Mukandekezi said.
Cotragagi has more than 1,200 members, with capacity to harvest more than 350 tonnes of unprocessed tea per month.
The cooperative operates on 600 hectares in Ngororero and part of Nyabihu districts.
Officials, though, said despite more efforts to boost production, the factories face shortage of tea to process.
Currently, Nyabihu Tea Factory operates at 30 per cent capacity, while in Rubaya Tea Factory operates at 55 per cent of its capacity.
Factory managers appealed to concerned authorities to help them get more land for cultivation.
Jotham Majyalibu, the managing director of the Rwanda Mountain Tea Ltd, said tea production had increased three fold and the quality had also significantly improved.
“Our target is to maintain quality, boost production and income. We have committed to work with other institutions to boost productivity per hectare and the land on which tea is cultivated,” he said.