Coffee dealers are starring at losses to old trees and high costs of maintaining plantations.
The Majority of coffee producers are small-holder farmers and their plantations were barely replaced over 30 years ago.
This, coupled with climate change and other factors, yield decline for three consecutive seasons even as market demand soared.
Exports data for the four quarters show Rwanda produced 20,958 metric tons of coffee as at June 2021. More than 16,880 tons were exported at an average price of Rwf 3,768 a kilogramme compared with Rwf 3,167 a kilogramme in previous year.
But players in the coffee sub-sector say at least 30 million of the estimated 100 million coffee trees the country banks on for production need complete uprooting and subsequent replacement, while another section needs urgent rejuvenation to improve yield and quality.
Farms are currently producing one kilogramme of coffee beans per tree on average, which is equivalent to 150 grammes of finished coffee, way below potential of over five kilograms.
The mobilisation of individual farmers and co-operatives to improve plantations hit a snag due to lack of incentives to cushion them from income losses and high costs of maintaining plantations.
“In addition to labour costs and other expenses associated with revamping a coffee farm, one still incurs routine costs on inputs such as pruning, mulching, pest control and fertiliser for two to three years prior to resuming harvesting. So the main concern is how the farmers survive in absence of incentives to do so. It calls for strategies beyond mere mobilization,” argued Teopista Nyiramahoro, a coffee farmer with 24,000 trees.
According to Ms Nyiramahoro, while individual farmers like herself have been replacing the coffee plantation in phases, it has not proven easy as many are discouraged by earnings they deem too low to compensate for such investments.
“Many farmers are tempted to switch to other lucrative crops such as beans and maize, effectively dumping coffee farming. It a cross-cutting issue that calls for a strategic plan involving government, processors and exporters to offer their share of the cost needed by producers,” argued Ernest Nshyimyimana, manager at Dukundekawa, the Gakenke District based coffee processing firm.