Over three million old coffee trees in the country are set to be replaced as government seeks to increase crop productivity and subsequently fetch more foreign exchange revenue from one of the country’s major cash crops.
The National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB) says that 30 per cent of the 100 million coffee trees in the country are old and need replacement.
Coffee trees are classified as old when they are at least 30 years old. As a result, their productivity drops significantly.
Speaking to The New Times, Verediyana Uwamurera, a farmer and head of Dukunda Kawa Nyagisozi, a cooperative of coffee farmers in Nyagisozi Sector, Nyaruguru District, said that old coffee trees were responsible for low yields in the area.
“An old coffee tree hardly produces two kilogrammes while a tree in its prime years produces about six kilogrammes,” she said.
Issa Nkurunziza, Traditional Commodities Division Manager at NAEB, said that about 11 per cent of old coffee trees, or about 3.3 million coffee trees, will be replaced in the next financial year.
“The plan is for the exercise to start in October 2020,” Nkurunziza said.
All the old coffee trees will be replaced by the end of 2024, he said. “However, the exercise will be conducted progressively so that it does not adversely affect the income of farmers.”
Sandrine Urujeni, the acting Chief Executive Officer, NAEB, said that farmers with old coffee trees are also generally older citizens.
Yet, she noted, coffee requires a lot of care. The two factors, she observed, are largely to blame for low coffee productivity in the country.
In Rwanda, Urujeni said, a coffee tree produces an average of three kilogrammes of cherries, well below the average of 10 kilogrammes produced in major coffee exporting nations.
She said the plan to replace older trees would also help cushion coffee farmers against the fluctuation of prices on the international market.
Figures from NAEB show that during the 2018/2019 financial year Rwanda’s coffee earnings decreased to $68 million from $69 million the previous financial year.
But, in terms of volumes, exports increased by 6 per cent from 20,000 tonnes to 21,000 tonnes over the same period.
The country seeks to generate $80 million from exporting 26,000 tonnes worth of exports in the 2019/2020 fiscal year.