The sky is overcast, but the outlook is bright among the coffee farmers gathered on the hillside this December day. Today, these 107 farmers from the Mugeyo coffee washing station in Rwanda’s Nyamasheke District will receive nearly 40,000 seedlings of a productive and resilient coffee varietal, and will plant them according to the new techniques they’ve learned in the last few months.
Gerard Nkunzurwanda is one of them. The owner of the Mugeyo coffee wet mill (which processes raw coffee to improve its quality), he is excited to see his community improving the quality, quantity–and price–of its coffee.
“The main challenge we face today is low production,” he says. “Many coffee trees are very old, and low use of agro-inputs reduces tree productivity.” With days like today–part of a larger effort to help Rwanda’s coffee industry reach its full potential–he is hopeful that this will soon change.
Why Rwanda is Ideal for Speciality Coffee
Rwanda’s lush hills and temperate climate make it ideal for growing specialty coffee, an increasingly important part of its economy. More than 400,000 farming families grow most of the country’s coffee, and depend on it for their livelihoods.
The coffee sector therefore holds incredible potential for reducing poverty in Rwanda. But to do this, it must first overcome key challenges. TechnoServe is partnering with the European Union, JDE Peets, and the Government of Rwanda on the Rwanda Ikawa Nziza Cyane “Best Quality Coffee” project, to address these challenges by:
- Helping coffee wet mills adopt digital tools and platforms. This will help them provide better agronomic support to their farmers, improve their business practices, and connect with lenders, buyers, and government agencies.
- Helping farmers access better agricultural supplies like high-quality seedlings and fertilizer, as well as financing to grow their production.
- Creating market research, quality standards, and policy recommendations to strengthen Rwanda’s competitiveness.
As a result of these activities, participating farmers are expected to increase their coffee yields by 10% and their net income by 15%.
Gerard Nkunzurwanda grew up on coffee. His parents were coffee farmers, and he says he inherited their love for cultivating it. Now that he has his own family, with two children to support, he decided to try to maximize the income from this important crop.
Four years ago, he opened Cyesha Coffee Ltd, a coffee wet mill station and farm. It collects raw coffee cherries from nearly 300 farmers in the community and processes them to a high standard that will fetch a higher price.
His business also helps the farmers improve the quality and yields of their coffee, providing agricultural extension, or training, services. Cyesha Coffee maintains 50 acres of coffee farmland, where local farmers can see “demo plots” that show the best ways for growing high-quality coffee.
But like many coffee farmers and wet mill owners in Rwanda, Gerard often struggled to earn a good living from his work. “Low production raises unhealthy competition among coffee washing stations…which may lead the business to loss,” he says. “Searching for more good buyers to take all our production is also my concern.”
Last year, he began working with TechnoServe to learn better practices for coffee processing, which would improve the quality and price of his wet mill’s coffee even further. He also learned how to comply with quality and sustainability standards which would qualify the mill to sell to new markets–further improving prices for local farmers.
But one of the biggest sources of support was the coffee seedling initiative. Last spring, with support from the Rwanda Agricultural Board, TechnoServe distributed more than 100 pounds of coffee seeds to three area wet mills, including Cyesha Coffee. These seeds were the RAB-C15 varietal: a hardy, high-yield type that is resistant to the devastating coffee rust fungus, an increasingly common problem due to climate change.
Over the next several months, TechnoServe helped the wet mill staff learn improved techniques for planting and cultivating coffee seedlings, such as how to:
- Prepare a seed bed
- Construct a coffee nursery
- Plant seedlings in the right way for receiving adequate sunlight and water
With this careful cultivation, nearly 102,000 coffee seedlings were ready for distribution to farmers by December 2021. The distribution event with Gerard and over 100 farmers from the Mugeyo wet mill was just the start. This year, TechnoServe will distribute an additional 800,000 RAB C-15 seedlings to farmers across western and southern Rwanda, while helping them learn proper preparation and monitoring techniques.
“Over half of Rwanda’s coffee farmers own less than 300 coffee trees, and if they are unable to extend their farms, they need to learn to maximize yield,” says Ben Bizinde, TechnoServe’s Rwanda Country Programs Manager. “We believe that with the right support and mindset, TechnoServe can help Rwanda reach its full potential, contributing to sustainable and resilient communities throughout the country.”
Good Agricultural Practices
It’s a belief that Gerard shares. He’s already seeing the business and agronomic training he learned from TechnoServe pay off. His company’s coffee was recently selected to represent Rwanda’s top coffee samples at an important coffee auction in Singapore later this year.
Cyesha Coffee will also help its contributing farmers to “improve coffee husbandry practices and increase productivity,” Gerard says. The same goes for other coffee wet mills: “Through compliance with quality and sustainability guidelines, neighboring coffee washing stations will learn best practices from Cyesha Coffee.”
Overall, he says, “the company expects to increase the quality of coffee and the number of products it sells that will increase the revenues.”
In this way, Gerard and his fellow farmers are looking forward to a brighter future for Rwandan coffee–and all the families who depend on it.