The Tea Industry in Rwanda
Tea growing in Rwanda started in 1952. Since its
introduction, tea production has increased steadily, from 60 tons
of black tea in 1958, to 1,900 tons in 1990, to 14,500 tons in 2000,
reaching a peak of 17,800 tons in 2001. Over 90% of the production
is exported, but represents only a small share of the total volume
traded in the international market, which is about 1.4 million tons.
Rwanda tea is planted on hillsides at high altitude
(between 1,900 and 2,500 m), and on well drained marshes at an altitude
of between 1,550 and 1,800 m. Tea is grown on 11 estates. A total
area of approximately 12,500 ha is planted in the provinces of Byumba,
Cyangugu, Gikongoro, Gisenyi and Kibuye. Tea plantations must be
located near a tea factory because the harvest must be processed
within a few hours of picking. There are five forms of tea plantations:
Industrial blocks (a total of 4,002 ha in
the country) integrated to a processing plant. Industrial blocs
are large plantations, sized between 300 and 500 ha. One of
the industrial estates, the Nshili plantation in southern Gikongoro,
is almost 1,000 ha. Industrial estates employ wage labor;
Tea growers co-operatives (1,895 ha) in
the provinces of Cyangugu (Shagasha and Gisakura plantations)
and Byumba (Mulindi plantation). The cooperative plantations
are also blocks of large size and employ a mixture of family
and wage labor;
Tea growers association (ASSOPTHE - 852
ha) in the province of Byumba (Cyohoha-Rukeri plantation the
production of which is processed by the tea factory owned by
SORWATHE). Each member cultivates a 0.23 ha tea plot under his/her
responsibility contrary to the situation in cooperatives in
which members cultivate the plantations collectively;
- Private investment (SORWATHE - 252 ha);
Smallholder (thé villageois)
tea plots (5,540 ha). Smallholders have 0.2 - 0.25 ha of tea
plots in their family holdings and have essentially recourse
to family labor.
Yields are low by comparison with other producing
countries in Asia and also in nearby African countries. Public sector
plantations produce on average the equivalent of 1,400 kg/ha and
smallholder plots about 1,200 kg/ha. Private sector managed plantations
and cooperative blocks, by contrast, have recently recorded as much
as 3,500 and 2,600 kg/ha, respectively, essentially due to applying
adequate doses of chemical fertilizers. The green leaves of the
tea bushes are harvested all through the year but production peaks
during the rainy seasons and is less during the dry seasons. This
provides a smallholder tea planter with a regular cash income. Smallholder
tea is generally picked by women, who receive payment in small amounts
every two weeks.
Tea is processed in 10 factories, 2 are private
companies (SORWATHE and PFUNDA) and 8 are still managed by OCIR-Thé.
OCIR-Thé is a State agency in charge of the tea sector. It
was originally set up as a parastatal directly responsible for the
production processing and marketing of Rwanda tea. Since the war,
Government policy has changed and a new role is now envisaged for
OCIR-Thé as a promotion regulation and monitoring agency.
Processing capacity of OCIR-Thé managed factories is a constraint,
and most of them had considerable difficulties in handling the 2001
bumper tea crop. There is no factory near the OCIR-Thé estate
established since 1983 in southern Gikongoro (Nshili district) with
African Development Bank funding. The failure to build a factory
at Nshili means that Nshili green leaves have to be transported
to the nearest factory at Mata over a distance of 60 km on poor
roads. This seriously reduces the quality of the tea. Due to the
time required to evacuate the crop to Mata, the harvesting time
at the plantation is reduced to no more than four hours a day, which
also limits the production from the Nshili plantation. In addition,
large quantities of tea leaves that arrive in Mata too late in the
day for processing are actually thrown away (40% losses on average).
The quality of the Rwanda green tea leaves is among
the best in the world, although a difference is noted between tea
grown on the hillside and that grown in the marais. This
excellent reputation is still acknowledged by the international
market, despite the deterioration of the processed products which
occurred after 1994. The state of uncertainty among the staff of
OCIR-Thé regarding the privatization programme is partly
responsible for the deterioration. Sub-optimal delivery of fertilizers
for both the OCIR-Thé industrial estates and the smallholder
growers affect both quantity and quality of the green leaves produced.
OCIR-Thé uniform green leaves price nation-wide is no incentive
to increase production and ensure quality. Low prices for the green
leaves have a negative impact on the way smallholder growers handle
the pruning and harvesting of their tea bushes.
World demand for tea has expanded steadily at 2%
per annum, sustained by the expansion of consumption in the main
producing countries, such as India and Sri Lanka, until the end
of the 1990s, when the increase in demand ceased. Subsequently,
a world surplus occurred, causing a drop in price of about 25%.
Since overall supply is expected to continue growing at a faster
rate than total consumption, low prices are also expected to continue
for some time. However, as in the case of coffee, the price decrease
has affected essentially producers of low quality teas. Demand for
good quality teas, such as Darjeeling and Assam teas in India and
some Sri Lanka and Kenya teas, has continued to expand, and their
prices have commanded a good premium over the price of average or
inferior quality teas. From this point of view, Rwanda has a distinct
opportunity to exploit, since Rwanda CTC tea is considered among
the very best in the world. This reputation, which is a critical
factor for the financial viability of new investments in the sub-sector,
must be restored after the decline in the quality of OCIR-Thé
products occurred after the 1994 war. Currently, not all tea factories
in Rwanda are back to the pre-1994 performance in this respect.
The view of experts and traders coincides with the view of the GoR
in that, provided the country production is brought back to the
pre-war level of quality, Rwanda tea can obtain prices. Some traders
feel that most Rwanda CTC teas can fetch higher prices than the
best Kenya teas. The Nshili area, in particular, has the potential
to be among those, provided growers apply the correct pruning and
harvesting practices, fresh green leaves are delivered quickly to
a nearby factory, and adequate processing immediately follows.
The situation is different for smallholder tea
growers. A poor family with a plot of 0.2-0.25 ha of tea has a relatively
reasonable and regular cash income all the year around even at the
current low price paid by OCIR-Thé. Women often retain this
income, since they do the picking and delivery of the green leaves,
and this generally helps to improve the livelihood of the family.
In tea, the smallholder problem is how to get better prices for
the excellent quality of green leaves they produce.
A good deal of work is still required to formulate
an adequate programme for the development of the tea sector, combined
with a coherent policy aimed at providing incentives to private
investors and at securing adequate income for smallholder tea growers.
These ought to include at least the general strategic lines of development
of new tea planting and processing capacity, going beyond the statement
of principles of the current privatization policy, the implementation
of which also needs to be very significantly accelerated. The lack
of progress on privatization has indeed been a stumbling block for
several years. Donors are reluctant to assist the sub-sector, pending
evidence of concrete progress under the privatization policy.
Priorities for the medium term are not difficult
to identify. The construction of a factory at Nshili is by far the
top priority. Most existing factories in Rwanda must be expanded
so that they can adequately handle even the currently available
green leaves in case of a bumper crop, and the potential production
that can be attained if measures are taken to increase yields towards
levels more in line with comparable areas elsewhere in the world.
New areas can also be planted, with careful attention to producing
top quality products, to introducing organic tea with all the related
measures aimed at increasing the use of farm yard manure and at
strengthening land conservation, and to secure timely construction
of new factories, which is essential for the financial survival
of such initiatives.