Compared to places like Brazil and Colombia, Rwanda is a relatively small producer of coffee but still produces a substantial amount. In 2010, it produced 433,000 bags – which a fraction of the amount of coffee produced by Ethiopia, but still a respectable output, especially when you take into account that to export the coffee to Europe or the USA, it must first travel 1,500Km over land to Kenya or Tanzania, because Rwanda is land-locked.
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Types of Coffee Grown in Rwanda
All of the coffee grown in Rwanda is Arabica, with the vast majority of it being a variety of Bourbon. Coffee growing is exclusively the preserve of small-scale farmers and the majority of farms are family owned and less than one quarter of a hectare in size. The specialty coffee industry is still quite young in the country, and most of the coffee is large-batch produce, but thanks to the aid of the ADAR and SPREAD initiatives a growing number of farmers are learning the benefits of focusing on quality coffee.
Many co-ops have built their own washing stations which they can use to process beans and sell them on directly to international buyers. This puts the farmers in control of the prices they get for their products, and gives them flexibility over how much to sell, and when. Prior to these initiatives, coffee was traded as a commodity, and low prices compared with exporter monopolies drove many small farmers out of business.
Rwanda is a fertile and mountainous country. It is about half the size of Scotland, but it is densely populated. The climate is ideal for growing coffee, and the mountains offer the perfect spot for Arabica to grow. The country went through a difficult period in the 1990s, but the surviving population of the massacres in 1994 have banded together to regenerate the country, and they have gone from strength to strength in the last 20 years.
The Coffee Industry in Rwanda
Today, the three biggest drivers of economic growth in Rwanda are coffee, tea and tourism. About 90 percent of the population are involved in agriculture in some way, whether that is subsistence farming or contributing to the tea and coffee industry. The families of Rwandan farmers have come together to form co-operatives, and work together and share washing stations. With help from international aid organisations, they have invested heavily in improving the quality of their produce and moving from commodity coffee to the specialty industry. In 2007, they held the Crop of Gold competition, and then in 2008 they played host to a Cup of Excellence competition. This paved the way for Rwanda becoming recognized as an up-and-coming producer of quality coffees. Their small-scale farmers certainly have enthusiasm and they are developing the expertise required to produce consistently great-tasting specialty coffees. If you have never tried a Bourbon from Rwanda before, you should certainly add them to your watch list. Expect to see some incredible harvests coming out of the country in the next few years.
If You Like Rwandan Coffee, Give These A Try…
If coffee from Rwanda is your preferred cup and you’d like to explore coffees from other similar growing regions, try the following: