RWANDA – Rwanda’s coffee industry could soon become more competitive thanks to the new Japanese-funded project that seeks to help strengthen the coffee value chain.

The three-year Coffee Upgrade and Promotion in Rwanda (CUP Rwanda) project follows signing of a partnership deal between the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the National Agricultural Export Board (NAEB) last week.

Sandrine Urujeni, the NAEB deputy chief executive officer, said Japan will deploy coffee experts under the agreement to equip local sector players with skills and knowledge on how best Rwanda can enhance coffee production and marketing.

Urujeni explained that the new project also aims at developing a network among coffee stakeholders, a move that is geared at strengthening trust and relationships in order to promote Rwanda’s coffee.

It will be spearheaded by JICA expert Yoshiaki “Jose” Kawashima, also known as ‘Coffee Hunter’. The expert is expected to introduce new approaches in different stages of the Rwandan coffee value chain, from the coffee plantation to the consumer to help improve the crop’s marketability.

“The partnership is designed to increase Rwanda’s coffee competitiveness through creation of well-coordinated value chains and strong monitoring systems,” she noted during the deal signing event on Thursday. Cooperatives will be the backbone of the project to ensure success.

“We have already identified some of the co-operatives we shall be working with across the country; he said adding that strengthening coffee value chains will help make the sector more productive,” according to Dr Celestin Gatarayiha, the head of the coffee division at NAEB. Gatarayiha added that the project is crucial to the efforts aimed at improving quality as well as increasing coffee export receipts and household farmers’ income.

“We want to put in place robust and effective structures that will help us to coordinate farmers through co-operatives to help increase both the yields and quality along value chain of supply,” he added.

NAEB has been emphasising value addition and encouraging farmers and co-operatives to take advantage of coffee washing stations to enhance quality.

Coffee is the premier export oriented crop of Rwanda and has contributed an average of 24 per cent to total agricultural exports over the last decade.

The crop supports livelihoods of over 400,000 farmers across the country.

The country’s coffee export revenues were at $2.4 million (about Rwf2.02 billion) during the first quarter, up from $2.1 million (about Rwf1.77 billion) in the same period in 2016.

Gatarayiha said the agro-exports body will also use the project to reinforce the coffee platform across the country.

Speaking at the function, Jose Kawashima, the representative director and president of All for Coffee Limited, a Japan-based global coffee company, said it was critical for farmers to understand the coffee business trends to be able to increase production and quality along the value chain and make the sector more competitive.

Kawashima said lack of knowledge about the coffee varieties, for instance, can become a big challenge if it is not addressed.

The businessman also rooted for promotion of local consumption of coffee, arguing that this was critical to ensure a sustainable market for the sector.

Both Japan and Rwanda have been cooperating to improve the coffee sector since 2012.

The board is implementing a five-year strategic plan aimed at achieving an annual average export growth rate of 29 per cent, translating to $104.3 million by 2018, from $60.9 million in 2013.

The plan also seeks to enhance productivity and quality to make the country’s coffee industry more competitive.

NAEB targets to increase productivity from 2.4 kilogrammes per coffee tree in 2013 to 3.1 kilogrammes per tree by 2018.

The board also seeks to increase fully-washed coffee to 71 per cent by 2018.

July 3, 2017: New Times