Tea and coffee changing Rwanda, East Africa is rising

Tea and coffee are arguably the most consumed beverage the world over. In 2015, over 10 million metric tonnes of coffee was produced for global consumption.

Rwanda began growing tea in the early 1950s. This East African country has a temperate climate with annual rainfall of about 2m. It has rich volcanic soil in the highlands. Rwanda’s mountains produce perfect conditions for cultivation of some of the worlds most consumed beverage plants.

Huye mountain, one of the many mountains in Rwanda where tea and coffee are grown, photo credit: huyemountaincoffee.com

Across Rwanda’s mountains, green tea plantations stretch vast expanse of the countryside creating beautiful contrast against blue sky.

During harvest, natural aroma emanating from red cranberry of ripe coffee beans are tempting. It is easy to pluck them.

Rwandan tea and coffee plants are some of the most sought out in the world.

In 2011, Rwanda tea was the winner of the ‘tea cupping competition’ held in Mombasa, Kenya. This is an African tea  exhibition convention.

According to the Rwanda’s National Agricultural Export Development Board, there has been an increase in tea export from 19.8 million tons in 2008 to over 24.8 million tons in 2014. This points to the steady global demand for the country’s beverage plants.

Rwanda tea industry is expanding putting local lands at work and dragging hundreds of thousands from poverty every successive year.

Demand for high quality tea is strong and Rwanda is taking advantage. Rwanda’s economy grew and government revenue increase from $2.7billion in 2005 to at least $3.8 billion in 2009.

Massive infrastructural developments has begun. This is particularly true in public housing, road construction and community school projects. Rwanda is recovering from setbacks of the early 1990s ethnic genocide when millions died in political conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi tribesmen.

How is Rwanda achieving this?

Families harvesting a tea farm, photo credit: www.stampworldhistory.com

Small family farms appear to be the driving force behind this agro-allied movement. Family farms grow these plants and sell them to the wholesale market managed by Rwandan government.

To maintain standard, families are grouped into community cooperatives. This cooperatives are go-between the government and farming communities.

Government sell improved seeds and fertilizers to the family farms via the cooperative. During harvest, the farmers sell their harvested crops to processing factories owned by the government. In recent decades, many industrial plants have been privatized through the cooperative.

One local farmer Ferdinand Nyiriyema, his wife and their seven children were among the many farming families in Rwanda. Before venturing into farming, Ferdinand worked as a clerk at the Gisovu tea factory.

After the 1994 ethnic clash between the Hutus and the Tutsi which destroyed Rwanda, Ferdinand and fellow  countrymen had to start from the scratch.

Global demand for Rwanda’s high quality tea and coffee made the government encourage families to engage in beverage plant farming as a way of breaking the stranglehold of poverty.

Children in their new classrooms.

School built by ENAS farmers cooperative in Rwamiko in conjunction with the Rogers family company, photo credit: http://www.rogersfamilyco.com/index.php/coffee-community-aid-rwamiko-rwanda/earning income for themselves.  The exportation of these farm produce provides the government with high revenue generation.

With savings from wages he got as a clerk, Ferdinand was able to buy a small farm. His family began growing Rwanda’s most valuable export, tea and coffee, making money for his family.

Many Rwandan families are rebuilding their community with proceeds from tea and coffee.

Families are able to cater for their needs. With donations from different farmers, various cooperatives built community schools.

Through tea and coffee farming, the younger generation are acquiring knowledge and moving on  into new opportunities like mineral agro-processing, tourism and information technology start-ups. Rwanda’s greatest minds are arriving.

For example, Rwanda has opened a multi-million Rwandan franc agro-tourism industry complex.

A summer tour takes tourists on a hike along rugged hills and trails to the very top of coffee plantation mountain. Question and answer time about the beverage industry, its origins and significance are conducted by tour guides.

Down the hills, visitors are taken to the coffee bean washing station as well as the roasting and brewing sections. At the end of the tour, you are given the opportunity to roast and brew your own coffee.


A tourist tasting coffee beans at a washing plant, photo credit: http://www.newtimes.co.rw/section/article/2016-03-22/198210/

The second leg of the tour provides Rwanda the opportunity to tell its story. Visitors are given history pep talk about Rwanda especially the ancient kingdoms: traditions and momentous events like the inter-kingdom conflicts.

Hills where ancient battles were fought are pointed out. Rwandan is retelling the people’s story and retracing its journey from the past to the present. How does travel change your life? Rwanda is one of East Africa’s stunning mountain spectacles.

Rwanda’s growth has been one of the amazing stories over the past few years. It is among the top ten fastest growing economies in the world with 7 percent GDP growth expected in 2016.

It achieved all these by harnessing the power of small farms, experts call it subsistence farming. This completely changes the narrative that little farming communities cannot make a difference in the world stage.

But this is just the starting point.

As Rwanda’s economy grows so will the down stream manufacturing sector expand. Food processing and packaging will come alive like never before. Industrial plants springing up everywhere will drag many more families out of poverty.

Increased demand for cash crops leads to aggressive farming culminating in massive labor participation. You are looking at a region that can feed the world in time to come.

If land regeneration techniques are applied, Rwanda can replenish its soil and venture into cultivation of diverse cash crops. Modern land regeneration techniques is a story for another day. God bless East Africa. God bless Rwanda. Africa has great future.

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