9 January 2013

Rwanda: Exports Board Moves to Improve Tea Quality

Photo: Hannah McNeish/IRIN
Tea seller.

Over 1,200 tea farmers have been trained in harvesting standards, a move tailored at improving quality and ensuring the crop fetches high premiums on the regional and international markets.

"Rwandan tea, especially the liquor type, is always the best at the Mombasa auction. However, traders always complain that they find foreign materials in the tea. With the skills gained, we hope the problem will cease," said Francis Twagirayezu, the National Agriculture Export Development Board (NAEB) representative in Mombasa.

He added that Rwandan tea has always been competitive with primary grades fetching at the Mombasa auction, between $2.9 and $5 per kilogramme.

Twagirayezu said the trainees were selected from 11 tea factories countrywide, with 100 from each factory. In Mulindi, however, over 200 tea farmers were trained.

"Improving farmers' skills will not only boost their incomes, but also promote sustainable farming methods."

"I'm optimistic that once farmers master the standards, Rwandan tea can cost as much as $6 per kilogramme at the auction," he stressed.

According to the first auction on January 2, the first four tea varieties that recorded the highest prices were from Gisovu, Rwanda and one from Githuthi, Kenya.

Meanwhile, tea brokers from the Mombasa market will meet Rwandan processors, exporters and farmers so that they can, together, identify key challenges affecting the quality of the country's tea.

"We hope the feedback from the market team and the decision by processors and exporters to increase workers wages will improve the crop's quailty," Alex Kanyankole, the NAEB director general, said.

Effective July, 2012 tea workers were to earn Rwf27 per kilogramme, up from Rwf25. A worker can pick between 70 and 100 kilogrammes daily.

The traditional major destinations of the Rwanda tea sold at the Mombasa auction are Egypt, Pakistan, UK, Sudan and Afghanistan, which buy about 70% of total amount of tea sold at the auction.

However, strong demand is emerging from Russia, China, the USA, Turkey, Iran and the UAE. This is more reason Rwandan producers should try to access these markets through direct sales, Kanyankole said.

It is estimated that there are 19 tea farmer organisations with over 42,370 members, while tea plantations cover a total land area of 2, 294,26 hectares across the country.

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