Regional coffee growers, exporters and sector policy makers are turning their focus to domestic consumption, a move they say is intended to cushion them against fluctuations on the international market, which sometimes adversely affects their incomes.
They were speaking Friday at the official launch of the 17th African Fine Coffee Conference and Exhibition (AFCC&E) in Kigali.
The event is running under the theme, 'Specialty Coffees at the Heart of Africa', and it is focusing production and marketing of high quality coffee.
The event was organised by African Fine Coffees Association (AFCA) and Rwanda's National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB).
About 2,000 people are taking part in the event, including coffee producers, exporters, roasters, policymakers and buyers from around Africa, the Americas, Europe, among other parts of the world.
Samuel Kamau, the Executive Director of African Fine Coffees Association, said: "Local consumption is our future because we have to be self-sufficient. We cannot rely on donations. It creates the first base market for our farmers, so they do not have to worry about international prices going down."
"For countries like Ethiopia, the prices on the international market are normally better than those on the international market. The international market has to pay more because (international consumers) are competing with the local people".
Regional countries, he observed, can tap into the African Continental Free Trade Area, a deal signed in Kigali earlier this year with view to liberalise intra-African trade.
"For instance, we want Rwanda to trade with Kenya, with Uganda and with each African country in coffee, we should be able to sell our coffee to each other," he said.
Amb. George William Kayonga, the chief executive of NAEB, stated that Rwandan coffee is consumed more in foreign markets than back home.
He said there was need to emulate the consumption habits of countries like Ethiopia, which consumes about half of the coffee it produces.
Kayonga pointed out that there is a mentality that coffee consumption is bad for human health, yet research has shown that it has health benefits when consumed properly.
He pointed to measures to increase domestic coffee consumption such as ensuring its availability and affordability to attract more domestic consumers.
Kamau said Africa produces about 15 million bags of coffee annually - mainly for export - of which five million bags are specialty coffee produced mainly by Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda.
Rwanda Small Holder Specialty Coffee Company (RWASHOSCCO) managing director, Angelique Karekezi, told Sunday Times that relying on international markets poses risks to the local coffee subsector as producers and exporters cannot regulate prices, adding that there was need for more awareness to improve local consumption.
RWASHOSCCO brings together 13,800 farmers grouped in six cooperatives, and exports between 40 and 55 containers of coffee every year, depending on farming season, Karekezi said.
"In Rwanda, coffee is largely seen as a product for export but it's time that we start changing that mindset," she said.