The National Agriculture Exports Development Board (NAEB) has stepped up efforts to promote a new strategy it says will help the country achieve its targets in the coffee sub-sector.
The strategy, dubbed ‘coffee zoning’, seeks to strengthen the relationship between farmers, and coffee washing stations and factories.
Officials say increased interface between the farmers and their clients would help eliminate challenges that undermine efforts to ensure farmers produce quality coffee in high volumes.
Celestin Gatarayiha, the NAEB coffee division manager, Tuesday called on coffee washing stations and factories to extend support to farmers in the areas where they operate, through such ways as promoting fertiliser application, pests and disease control and management, weeding and pruning, as well as proper harvesting techniques.
He was speaking in Ngoma Sector, Nyaruguru District, during celebrations for 2017 National Coffee Day – an occasion that seeks to promote coffee consumption and sensitising farmers to improve on coffee production and quality.
Through the ‘coffee zoning’ initiative, NAEB hopes to boost coffee quality and quantity.
Sustainable source of income
Theopiste Nyiramahoro, the president of Rwanda Coffee Cooperatives’ Federation (RCCF), told The New Times that the national average coffee produce per tree is between two and three kilogrammes.
Yet, she said, a tree can produce up to 10 kilogrammes.
Dr Gatarayiha said the country targets export at least 23,000 tonnes of green coffee (hulled and dried coffee) in 2017, fetching $70 million (about Rwf58 billion).
He said coffee zoning will play a central role in this effort.
In 2016, coffee exports fetched $58 million (about Rwf48 billion) – from about 19,000 tonnes.
“We need to take care of our coffee if we are to achieve our targets,” he said.
He urged farmers to deal with factories in their respective localities to be able to improve on their volumes and quality.
“Similarly, factories which process coffee produce should work with farmers to increase produce. For instance they can help them access fertiliser,” he said.
There are over 270 coffee washing stations across the country.
He said this would benefit both the factories and farmers, and ultimately the country as well.
Nyaruguru mayor François Habitegeko said the district has so far harvested 1,900 tonnes of coffee cherries in 2017, but only some 389 tonnes were handled by coffee washing stations in the district.
The district has 1,900 hectares of coffee plantations – and over 3.5 million coffee trees.
“We want to revolutionalise the way we grow coffee in Nyaruguru, it can be a sustainable source of income for our people,” he said.
He said there are eight cooperatives of coffee farmers in Nyaruguru, which he said are still few in a district that has 12 sectors.
“We want to encourage more farmers to work under cooperatives, and to work professionally,” he said.
He encouraged farmers in the district to supply their coffee produce to washing stations.
RCCF’s Nyiramahoro said that the coffee zoning initiative was established to help address the issue of unscrupulous dealers who used to buy produce from farmers.
Verediyana Uwamurera, 50, farmer from Nyaruguru District’s Ngoma Sector, said that coffee zoning is important as farmers can earn from their produce even before harvesting.
“If you urgently need money to pay school fees for your child, the factory can give it to you even before supplying them,” she said. “We are already feeling the benefits of coffee zoning.”
According to figures from NAEB, 4,440 tonnes of fertiliser were applied in coffee fields in 2015, representing 56 per cent of the recommended rate. In 2016, Nyiramahoro said, fertiliser application improved to 64 per cent with about 4,700 tonnes used countrywide. Officials say the country needs 7000 tonnes of fertiliser for coffee.
Etienne Rukundo, a coffee farmer in Nyaruguru District, admitted that they need to apply more fertiliser especially during drought.
There are over 350,000 coffee farmers in the country, and 89,726,809 coffee trees, according to NAEB.
The cash crop is grown on some 56,000 hectares countrywide.
About 50 per cent of coffee goes through washing stations, with the government targeting 70 percent this year and 80 per cent in 2018.