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Coffee rejuvenation, key to improve farm yield

Vedaste Niyizigiye is a 20-year old who five years ago started following his parents’ path of growing coffee in Karambi, Nyamasheke District, Western Province, with 69 trees in his farm today.

Thanks to the mature trees he gradually bought Rwf5,500 each, the fifth child in the family of eight has so far harvested for the third season, and the profits are already beyond the money he had paid for the trees in the farm using his income as taxi-bicycle operator.

It has been four months now since Niyizigiye has started a small juice and liquor store in the trade centre in his home village Kabingo, Kagarama Cell, an achievement and growth he attributes to coffee.

Life in Karambi without coffee would be a life “with nothing to eat”, according to Niyizigiye, because this is a source of income for most of its population; “Not so many people grow tea around here, but they always have the willingness to grow coffee,” he explained.

Most of coffee farmers in the country are younger than current coffee trees; this oldness of the trees is year by year reducing the coffee production. This is the case in Nyamasheke, the top coffee producing district in the country.

According to Executive Secretary of Karambi Sector, Emmanuel Uwizeyimana, at least 70 per cent of the trees in Karambi are 30 years old, and this increasingly affects the annual production.

“If every tree produced as it should, we would get at least 3,000 tonnes,” said the executive secretary of the sector, who also highlighted that eight plants in Nyamasheke District only use 67 percent of their capacity.

Nyamasheke District vice mayor in charge of economic development, Josue Ntaganira, said that there are 13,320,000 coffee trees in Nyamasheke District, which produce 12,000 tonnes of cherries per season. However, if one tree provided its normal yield between 8-10 kilos, the production would be at least 92,000 tonnes higher.

“Coffee is screaming for help, it is not providing the production we need,” he told Karambi residents on Thursday, August 13, in a national campaign to “rejuvenate” coffee plantations.

The rejuvenation is pruning of branches to increase yield per tree, an exercises that makes it more productive after three years. “The coffee should never disappear due to the farmers and leaders not having sought help for it”, he added.

“Let us change our mindsets, and let the coffee be taken care of all the time, and when the trees ever get diseases, please seek help for it,” insisted Ntaganira, who also suggested that coffee rejuvenation should be in the performance contracts at the sector and family levels.

Alexis Nkurunziza, the coffee value chain specialist at National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB), said they have launched a countrywide campaign to rehabilitate coffee plants until end September.

The works include removing weed, and mulching to keep the moisture in the trees. The rehabilitation works also involve three parts, pruning the trees, and cutting on the main tree such that it sprouts once again, the third part is renovating the plantation by removing the tree and planting a new one.

“The older the tree the less resilient it gets to diseases and pests, that is why we try to make them young and strong again,” declared Nkurunziza. He also said the quality reduces since the cherries become smaller.

The cutting of the coffee trees is normally done once in seven or eight years, and when it is older than 30 years, it is completely removed and replaced by a new plant.

It is expected that the government will soon provide seedlings to farmers to replace old trees, a plan to be implemented by coffee processing plants.

In the recent fiscal year 2019/2020, the country exported19,723 tonnes of green coffee, with $60.4 million revenues, the country targets production of 31,000 tonnes of green coffee and $95 million revenues by 2024.

Nyamasheke is the largest coffee producer in Rwanda with the highest number of trees (13 million) ahead of Rusizi and Karongi in Western Province and Gatsibo and Kirehe in Eastern Province). It also has the highest number of coffee washing stations (60).