Coffee plays a major role in the economy of the country, contributing significantly to foreign exchange earnings and to the monetisation of the rural economy. Currently, ca. 355,000 small holder farm families (coffee census 2015) produce it and depend on it for their livelihoods. The production ranges from 16000 MT to 22000MT of green coffee per year. The total number of trees is currently 89.7 million grown in most provinces in the country. The average yield is 2.9 kilograms of cherries per tree.
The government support to coffee sub-sector includes:
There is one crop of coffee per year and the flowering starts after the June
– August dry season with the first rain in September. Fruits are then formed and the harvesting period starts late February in the Western Province on the shores of Lake Kivu and Early March elsewhere. However in the some areas in the Northern Province coffee is harvested until August.
Image 1. Fresh ripe
1.1. Introduction of coffee in Rwanda
Coffee rose in the habits of the Rwandan farmers to such an extent that its cultivation techniques have become almost traditional.
Coffee was introduced for the first time in Rwanda by German missionaries in 1904, who grew it in Mibilizi, Rusizi District, in the Southwest of the country. The cultivation of coffee was popularized by the colonial authorities between 1904 and 1914 and especially encouraged Rwandans to practice between 1917 and 1923. In 1927, the cultivation of coffee had become compulsory. But, it is in 1922 that coffee began to know a real boom. Many seeds were sown and redistributed by the missionaries. This caused a problem because banana plantations were affected.
A chef was appointed by region to oversee the division of parcels into lots. Each farmer had his land for growing coffee without mixing it with other plantations. In 1925, coffee brought a lot of money to chefs. Two years later, seeds were given for free because the land occupied by coffee became more important.
In the 1930s, coffee production increased and the government realized its importance, this led to the creation of the Institut National d’Etude Agronomique Congo-belge (INEAC) to conduct research on coffee. The headquarters of this research center was in Nyarugambi, Congo, near the border with Rwanda. Many varieties of coffee were then introduced by INEAC.
Exportable coffee production in Rwanda has been important in 1932, and during this year, the coffee production was about 100 tons (OCIR CAFE, 1989).
In 1960, farmers began to plant several new varieties such as BM139, BM71 or Jackson. In 1962, Rwanda gained its independence and INEAC changed its name to Institut des Sciences Agronomique du Rwanda (ISAR) with headquarters in Rubona (Huye), a District in the south of the country. Here again, many new varieties were introduced. At the end of 2010, ISAR became Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB).
1.2. Coffee production
Coffee production has been fluctuating from one year to another this is due to the natural cyclical production of Arabica coffee (Global empirical evidence). The trends of production for the past 10years show in general no much change. This is due to a number of factors including poor management of coffee plantation by the farmers, poor soil fertility and low use of inputs, old coffee trees, and climate issues like long drought, and pests and diseases outbreaks. Different efforts are currently being made to increase production, these include: establishment of new coffee plantations in the expansion program, promoting the use of inputs in order to increase productivity and enhancing the extension services.
Agricultural extension programs and farmer education programs are key to increasing the productivity and incomes of small farms while protecting the environment. In particular, agricultural extension programs based on the Farmer Field School (FFS) approach that disseminate new sciencebased knowledge and other information to farmers are being implemented in many developing countries.
It is in this regard, FFS was adopted in coffee sector as one of the measures to boost productivity. To date, 74,694 households have registered and regularly attended coffee Farmer field schools in seven cohorts from 2009 to February 2018 of which 45,664 households; totaling 66,711 farmers were trained under financing of the Project for Rural Income through Export (PRICE). Coffee farmer field schools intended to increase coffee production per tree which is in pipeline with PRICE’s goal targeting to raise smallholder farmer’s income by increasing sustainable returns to farmers from the key export-driven agricultural value chains through volumes and quality production.