The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Naeb Looks to Irrigation to Boost Tea Production

Severe drought and heavy rainfall the country experienced early last year were responsible for the drop in tea production over the year.

But this could be a thing of the past as the agriculture exports agency plans to introduce irrigation schemes in plantations like Shagasha, Mulindi and Sorwathe to counteract the effect of drought.

"The drought that lasted from January to March coupled with the heavy rains that followed in April and May destroyed a considerable acreage of tea plantations, especially in Sorwathe and Mulindi districts," Corneille Ntakirutimana, the deputy director general in charge of production and chain development at the National Agricultural Export Board, revealed.

"Heavy rains not only destroy tea leaves, but they also disrupt its transportation from plantations to factories since the roads usually become impassable," he added.

Rwanda's tea production fell to 22,563 tonnes last year from 24,067 tonnes in 2011. However, there was an increase in international prices from $2.78 per kilogramme in 2011 to $3 per kilo in December.

This translated into a 6% increase in tea export revenue, up from $61.9m in 2011 to $65.7m in 2012

Ntakirutimana said other factors, including the closure of Shagasha and Mulindi factories for renovation early last year, also had an effect on the country's tea output.

He revealed that there were plans of increasing tea acreage by 18,000 hectares countrywide to boost production.

He said new potential areas for tea growing were being studied. These are Nyaruguru, Ruhindo, Karongi, Nyamashekye and Nyamagabe.

Ntakirutimana added that, in co-ordination with the Rwanda Envirinment Management Authority, trees were also being planted in tea growing areas to counter the occasional severe drought that destroys or affects the quality of the leaf.

Famers were also being sensitised about the importance of timely planting and harvesting to reduce effects of extreme weather conditions.

The tea sector in Rwanda employs over 50,000 farmers who earn between Rwf123 and Rwf155 per kilogramme. Rwanda is one of the leading tea producers in the world.

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