Although located in the equatorial belt, Rwanda has a temperate climate having an average altitude of 1700 meters above sea level: the average temperature is 20°C and rainfall is mainly concentrated in two seasons (March-May and October-December) with rare periods of drought. The soil is particularly fertile, in part because of the presence of numerous volcanoes: the Volcanoes National Park is home to as many as five belonging to the Virunga mountain range.
Coffee cultivation began in 1930 by the Belgian colonial government and today employs about 400,000 people with 70 million trees and a production of about 27,000 tons. The quality of green coffee, almost exclusively of Arabica species – French Mission Bourbon variety, is appreciated all over the world and its production is now a major source of income for the country’s economy.
On the other hand, agricultural activity remains insufficient to support the entire needs of the population (the country is the most densely populated in Africa) and imports consequently exceed total exports; this is also due to the process of desertification that has affected the country since the civil wars of 1994 and the indiscriminate cutting down of trees by displaced people, as well as intense land use due to the very high population density.
To this must be added some critical logistical and geographical issues that contribute to making Rwanda’s already weak economic condition even more critical. These include an inadequate infrastructure system and lack of direct outlets to the sea.
For this reason, much of the resources in recent years from local government have been directed to the development of basic infrastructure, but it has not yet been able to make a substantial impact on the country’s financial possibilities.
As of today, in fact, the country still ranks among the poorest in the world with a per capita GDP of $732, and the agricultural sector, which once employed 90 percent of Rwanda’s population, has collapsed dramatically over the years. Indeed, until 1990 this sector accounted for 60 percent of total export volume, while in 2001 it counted for only 20 percent due to the economic devastation caused by the genocide combined with the collapse of coffee prices in the second half of the 1990s.
Today, with a 10-year development program, Rwanda is becoming one of the most important and in-demand coffee producers. The fine grains from this area are in demand by most of the largest chains and marketed worldwide.
The coffee sector can now provide stable employment for about 400 thousand smallholder families who derive their livelihood from about 70 million plants with a production of about 27 thousand tons. The plantations are very small and all together occupy only 35000 hectares distributed at an altitude between 900 and 2400 m.
Creating some problems for coffee quality is the risk of encountering “potato defect,” an unpleasant aroma reminiscent of raw potato and affecting individual beans. The defect is given by an Antestia nime insect that releases pyrazines inside the grain imparting this unpleasant taste.