RWANDA – Rwanda is expecting to reach 24,500 tonnes in coffee exports this year following manifold efforts to increase both quantity and quality of coffee in the country.

According to the National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB), coffee exports are expected to increase from 23,000 tonnes exported in the year 2017.

Since 2016 when Rwanda recorded 22,000 tonnes in exports, the government has been striving to boost the sector with projected higher coffee earnings for proceeding years.

“We have put in place different strategies to make sure both productivity and quality increases for coffee.

In 2015, we carried out a census which showed that some old coffee trees aged 50 and 70 years need to be replaced because they are vulnerable to disease.

Three years ago we created zones of coffee so that we work with coffee factories to prepare nurseries to get coffee seedlings and give them to farmers in the zones for planting,” said Dr Celestin M. Gatarayiha to Sunday Times.

For the fiscal year 2017/18, the NAEB set an ambitious target of US$70 million in coffee export earnings, but this may rise further as by 2024, they plan to have planted 34,000 new coffee trees.

This, in addition to proper application of fertilizers as well as integrated pest management will double productivity, revealed Dr Celestin M. Gatarayiha, the Coffee Division Manager at NAEB.

“We are putting efforts in preventing pests called Antestia bug that affects 30 per cent of coffee if not controlled.

We have decided to use integrated pest management by applying best agricultural practices, pest control approaches and pesticides.

But because chemical pesticide is harmful to environment and biodiversity in general, we are looking at using environmental friendly pesticides locally produced from pyrethrums,” he said.

He added that when quality is improved, the price increases on the international competition.

“If a farmer does not get what they want from coffee plantations, you cannot expect sustainable production”.

Exports growth hindered by old coffee varieties 

Apart from low output as a result of low productivity, coffee exports are hindered by the use of old varieties extreme weather effects, low use of fertiliser and limited use of coffee washing stations.

Low varieties are associated with low yield though efforts are being done to preserve their unique taste while increasing their output.

Experts have it current coffee yields in Rwanda are around 2.8 kilogrammes per tree, but the potential is to get it up to seven-eight kilogrammes per tree.

However, switching to new varieties means depriving smallholder farmers of their income for several years, while the trees mature.