Tea and coffee from Rwanda
Tea from Rwanda
The rural area around Sorwathe is very densely populated as most areas in Rwanda seem to be. Most villagers practice subsistence small scale farming on plots averaging half an hectare. Crops mostly grown are bananas, maize, beans and sweet potatoes.
Sorwathe is located in Rwanda’s North Province, about 70 kms north of the capital Kigali.The rural area surrounding Sorwathe is very hilly and densely populated. As a result almost all the tea is planted in the valley in a drained swamp. Sorwathe owns a total of 280 hectares, 262 of which are planted with tea. The company also owns 443 ha of forest in little plots scattered all over the district. The factory produces approx. 3 million of made tea per year. In 2005, their export sales amounted to 3,005,500 Kgs of made tea and their national sales to 15,100 Kgs.
Sorwathe fairtrade tea is now sold throughout one of the most established and respected names in British retailing with a history of over 130 years with a total of 420 stores nationwide. Its whole range of coffee and tea – a total of 38 lines – switched to Fairtrade. According to the chain, the expected increase of the value of Fairtrade tea will rise 30%.
For some beautiful pictures from tea pickers we refer to the pictures of Photographer Tim Smith.
Pfunda Tea Estate – Rwanda
Rwanda is a truly astonishing country with a quite stunning landscape. One easily forgets the level of turmoil endured in recent years by its people who continue to strive for a more prosperous and secure future. Tea is playing a key role in rebuilding the economy of this African nation with some of the world's best being produced by the Pfunda Tea Estate and Factory. Pfunda is situated 4 hours drive from the capital Kigali in an area known as the Congo Nile Crest, above Lake Kivu and below the Nyiragongo Volcano in Congo. Here the tea grows at between 1740m and 3100m and the rich volcanic soil means Pfunda is uniquely placed to produce outstanding tea of unparalleled quality. The estate provides valuable jobs for people in the local area, and up to 2000 people work on the estate. The estate also runs a co-operative for the farmers in the local area. Over 2000 farmers are members of this co-operative and supply green leaf to the Tea factory. Pfunda Tea Factory will produce between 1.5 – 2 million kilos of tea this year. This may sound like a lot but in terms of tea manufacture it is relatively small. The Pfunda Estate concentrates on making the finest tea focusing in on quality not quantity.
Rwanda Mountain Tea
Nature offers, Rwanda the Land of Thousand hills the best ecological conditions for producing a unique tea of consistent quality. The tea in Rwanda is well-known all over the world for its quality. The finest teas in Rwanda are made by Rwanda Mountain Tea.
Rwanda Mountain Tea (RMT) is a privately owned Tea Company, headquartered in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda.
broad range of high quality tea products at competitive prices.
The tea gardens of RMT, namely Nyabihu and Rubaya are ideally located in the northern misty mountains where the majestic Silverback Gorillas live.
The high mountains, fertile soils & the cool climate are perfect ingredients to produce a refreshing cup of Tea, for the connoisseur.
In August 2006, the Government of Rwanda under the privatization policy yielded the controlling shares of the Tea estates
Of Nyabihu and Rubaya to “Rwanda Mountain Tea”. The remaining 10 % shares are held by the local Tea Cooperatives of
the Tea Farmers. The objective of the privatization is to reinforce the tea sector by infusing private investments and to
develop the plantations acquiring the needed expertise towards improving competitiveness of Rwandan teas in the global
Sorwathe SARL Rwanda
Sorwathe is located in Rwanda’s North Province, about 70 kms north of the capital Kigali.The rural area surrounding Sorwathe is very hilly and densely populated. As a result almost all the tea is planted in the valley in a drained swamp. Sorwathe owns a total of 280 hectares, 262 of which are planted with tea. The company also owns 443 ha of forest in little plots scattered all over the district. The factory produces approx. 3 million of made tea per year. In 2005, their export sales amounted to 3,005,500 Kgs of made tea and their national sales to 15,100 kgs.
The Tea Industry in Rwanda
Tea growing in Rwanda started in 1952. Since its introduction, tea production has increased steadily, from 60 tons of black tea in 1958, to 1,900 tons in 1990, to 14,500 tons in 2000, reaching a peak of 17,800 tons in 2001. Over 90% of the production is exported, but represents only a small share of the total volume traded in the international market, which is about 1.4 million tons.
Rwanda tea is planted on hillsides at high altitude (between 1,900 and 2,500 m), and on well drained marshes at an altitude of between 1,550 and 1,800 m. Tea is grown on 11 estates. A total area of approximately 12,500 ha is planted in the provinces of Byumba, Cyangugu, Gikongoro, Rubavu and Kibuye. Tea plantations must be located near a tea factory because the harvest must be processed within a few hours of picking. There are five forms of tea plantations:
- Industrial blocks (a total of 4,002 ha in the country) integrated to a processing plant. Industrial blocs are large plantations, sized between 300 and 500 ha. One of the industrial estates, the Nshili plantation in southern Gikongoro, is almost 1,000 ha. Industrial estates employ wage labor;
- Tea growers co-operatives (1,895 ha) in the provinces of Cyangugu (Shagasha and Gisakura plantations) and Byumba (Mulindi plantation). The cooperative plantations are also blocks of large size and employ a mixture of family and wage labor;
- Tea growers association (ASSOPTHE – 852 ha) in the province of Byumba (Cyohoha-Rukeri plantation the production of which is processed by the tea factory owned by SORWATHE). Each member cultivates a 0.23 ha tea plot under his/her responsibility contrary to the situation in cooperatives in which members cultivate the plantations collectively;
- Private investment (SORWATHE – 252 ha);
- Smallholder (thé villageois) tea plots (5,540 ha). Smallholders have 0.2 – 0.25 ha of tea plots in their family holdings and have essentially recourse to family labor.
Yields are low by comparison with other producing countries in Asia and also in nearby African countries. Public sector plantations produce on average the equivalent of 1,400 kg/ha and smallholder plots about 1,200 kg/ha. Private sector managed plantations and cooperative blocks, by contrast, have recently recorded as much as 3,500 and 2,600 kg/ha, respectively, essentially due to applying adequate doses of chemical fertilizers.
The green leaves of the tea bushes are harvested all through the year but production peaks during the rainy seasons and is less during the dry seasons. This provides a smallholder tea planter with a regular cash income. Smallholder tea is generally picked by women, who receive payment in small amounts every two weeks.
Tea is processed in 10 factories, 3 are private companies (SORWATHE and PFUNDA) and 7 are still managed by OCIR-Thé.
OCIR-Thé is a State agency in charge of the tea sector. It was originally set up as a parastatal directly responsible for the production processing and marketing of Rwanda tea. Since the war, Government policy has changed and a new role is now envisaged for OCIR-Thé as a promotion regulation and monitoring agency. Processing capacity of OCIR-Thé managed factories is a constraint, and most of them had considerable difficulties in handling the 2001 bumper tea crop. There is no factory near the OCIR-Thé estate established since 1983 in southern Gikongoro (Nshili district) with African Development Bank funding. The failure to build a factory at Nshili means that Nshili green leaves have to be transported to the nearest factory at Mata over a distance of 60 km on poor roads. This seriously reduces the quality of the tea. Due to the time required to evacuate the crop to Mata, the harvesting time at the plantation is reduced to no more than four hours a day, which also limits the production from the Nshili plantation. In addition, large quantities of tea leaves that arrive in Mata too late in the day for processing are actually thrown away (40% losses on average).
The quality of the Rwanda green tea leaves is among the best in the world, although a difference is noted between tea grown on the hillside and that grown in the marais. This excellent reputation is still acknowledged by the international market, despite the deterioration of the processed products which occurred after 1994. The state of uncertainty among the staff of OCIR-Thé regarding the privatization programme is partly responsible for the deterioration. Sub-optimal delivery of fertilizers for both the OCIR-Thé industrial estates and the smallholder growers affect both quantity and quality of the green leaves produced. OCIR-Thé uniform green leaves price nation-wide is no incentive to increase production and ensure quality. Low prices for the green leaves have a negative impact on the way smallholder growers handle the pruning and harvesting of their tea bushes.
Coffee from Rwanda
About Rwandan coffee
Rwandan coffee was, at one time, rarely seen in the United States as either a Specialty grade or low-end commercial coffee. There simply was not that much coffee produced in Rwanda that went anywhere besides one particular importer in Belgium, the former colonizer of the country. It is believed that coffee was introduced in Rwanda in 1904 by German missionaries. Around 1930, a considerable interest in coffee developed as it was the sole revenues generating commodity for rural families. The government encouraged (actually, they mandated) low quality, high-volume production. Even with this low grade coffee production, coffee played a considerable role in the economic development of the country because it was one of the few cash crops. But with the collapse of world coffee prices at the international market level, the push to export low grade arabica made less and less sense.
Then there was the genocide in the 90s, one of the most horrendous occurrences in modern history. It makes me dizzy just imagining how a country recovers, how people go back to a "normal" life after the tragedy of monumental scale. But the recovery in Rwanda has occurred with an unflinching openness to the genocide. (A personal thought: I think much of the world stood by because awareness of Rwanda was low, and self-interest in Rwanda was low. What did Rwanda produce and export that the world cared about? Clinton said so much at the time, and in retrospect regretted it as did other world leaders on whose watch the massacre happened. I feel that interest in Rwanda, awareness of their products and the people, would make another tragedy difficult to ignore, and coffee is a "gateway to the world" in that sense.)
Transportation is a probem with Rwanda coffee too. The coffee has historically been transported across Uganda to Mombasa, Kenya for shipment to Europe, a trip that can damage the coffee, and one that relies on economic and political stability in the region. The result is that the coffee cannot reach market, so the price and the incentive to produce top-grade coffee had diminished greatly for the village coffee farmer. That's why it comes as a very pleasant surprise to receive excellent Rwandan coffee from small-holder village coffee farms and small mills (called washing stations). The fact that rural people can tend their crops and get export prices for them is a good sign for Rwanda, and for us … because this is an origin with great potential. Historically, Rwanda has been the 9th largest producer of arabicain Africa, with 500,000 small farms averaging less than 1 hectare each. Coffee is grown in the western part of the country and in the central area near the capital of Kigali. The eastern part of Rwanda, over 1/7th of the country, is set aside as a national park and there is no coffee production permitted.
Rwanda has a lot going for it: traditional cultivar, good altitude, and lots of willing advisors from USAID! It's a delicate coffee in some respects, cupped beside many Kenyas, but these subtle citric qualitites, interesting aromatics, and consistent high quality make it a much more interesting origin than Zambia and Zimbabwe at this point.
Coffee Rwanda was formed when the founder, Karl Weyrauch, along with his wife Patricia Boiko and their daughter Anna, visited Rwanda to teach Public Health to the staff of Never Again Rwanda, a local non-profit. Through a roundabout series of coincidences, they found themselves at COOPAC, a Fair Trade coffee cooperative near Lake Kivu.
Karl offered to bring coffee samples back to Seattle and thus was born his interest in Rwandan coffee: as a vehicle for nation building in the aftermath of genocide. By helping to combat poverty among its 2198 member farmers, COOPAC greatly improves their health as well.
Another amazing thing about COOPAC is that it literally serves to help heal the wounds of the 1994 genocide, made known to American audiences in the film, "Hotel Rwanda". Women sort the beans by hand and as they do, they talk – building relationships between the genocide killers and the surviving victims – a meaningful and sustainable avenue for reconciliation.
Interestingly, COOPAC includes among its members individuals of the Community of Potters (formerly known as the Batwa pygmies), a marginalized minority inside Rwanda. Expanding on this beginning, Karl and his friends started the US-based non-profit Pygmy Survival Alliance to apply all profits from the sales of Coffee Rwanda to improve the survival and welfare of these, the poorest people in Rwanda: both those who have been "left behind by history" and their neighbors.
Thus, Coffee Rwanda is a "social business" that is all about the health, education and welfare of impoverished families who survive on a less than a dollar a day in one of the least-developed nations on earth. Each bag of coffee sold raises enough money to buy three pairs of shoes for children to allow them to attend school, often for the first time; or, to provide health care insurance for two people for a year. Or, it can do a lot of other good works through our collaboration in Rwanda and with volunteers in the USA.
Plus, it offers a great cup of coffee at the same time! It's a win-win-win proposition.
Thank-you for your interest in this project and in the welfare of the people of Rwanda. As they say in the language Kinyarwanda: "Murakoze cyane
Rwanda’s coffee success story
By William Easterly and Laura Freschi | Published May 12, 2010
From Gimme!Coffee in NoLita, NYC
A walking tour through some of the trendiest coffee shops in the NYU vicinity reveals a common element: creatively packaged, expensive Rwandan coffee for sale.
Given our long-standing interest in 1) good coffee and 2) the potential of entrepreneurship for development, this phenomenon clearly merited investigation. The work of Karol Boudreaux, who has been following the Rwandan coffee sector for several years, helps to sketch the outlines of a partially donor-funded development success story now unfolding.
The history of coffee in Rwanda is intertwined with the country’s political fortunes, and stretches back to the 1930s when the Belgian colonial government required Rwandan farmers to plant coffee trees, while setting price restrictions and high export taxes, and controlling which firms could purchase coffee. These policies helped create a “low-quality/low-price trap” that would bedevil the post-colonial governments that continued similarly heavy-handed policies. They also ensured a national distaste for the stuff—reportedly even today many Rwandans prefer tea.
In the late 1980s global coffee prices plummeted, and the economic devastation following Rwanda’s 1994 genocide wiped out what remained of the struggling industry. In 2000, there was no functioning infrastructure to wash and process coffee beans, meaning that what little coffee was produced was of poor quality.
Fast forward ten years to today: Rwanda has a National Coffee Strategy. Rwandan specialty coffee is winning international competitions, commands some of the world’s highest prices, and is sought out by Starbucks, Green Mountain Coffee, Intelligentsia, and Counter Culture Coffee. There is preliminary evidence that the coffee industry is creating jobs, boosting small farmer expenditure and consumption, and possibly even fostering social reconciliation by reducing “ethnic distance” among the Hutus and Tutsis who work together growing and washing coffee.
How did this happen? First, the Rwandan government lowered trade barriers, and lifted restrictions on coffee farmers. Second, Rwanda developed a strategy of targeting production of high-quality coffee, a specialty product whose prices remain stable even when industrial-quality coffee prices fall. Third, international donors provided funding, technical assistance and training, creating programs like the USAID-funded Sustaining Partnerships to Enhance Rural Enterprise and Agribusiness Development (SPREAD). SPREAD’s predecessor started the first Rwandan coffee cooperative as an experiment in 2001, and the project continues its work improving each link in newly-identified high-value coffee supply chains.
Some problems and constraints still plague the Rwandan coffee sector. For example, transport costs remain high, and in the past there was poor management at some coffee cooperatives that pointed to a persistent need for good training and financial management skills.
Still, Rwanda’s revenues from coffee are still growing in the face of global recession, and these revenues bring real benefits to Rwanda’s rural poor.