Farmers optimistic as new coffee variety is introduced

Joseph Bigirimana, the lead researcher for the team that developed the variety, explains the benefits of the new RABC15 coffee variety in Huye District. (Emmanuel Ntirenganya)

Joseph Bigirimana, the lead researcher for the team that developed the variety, explains the benefits of the new RABC15 coffee variety in Huye District. (Emmanuel Ntirenganya)

According to experts, the variety would solve the issue of 40 per cent of coffee produce lost owing to crop diseases.

The RABC15 variety of Coffea Arabica was developed from 2008 and is released almost eight years after various experiments on its resilience against pests and productivity.

It was developed through the partnership of the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), the National Agriculture Exports Development Board (NAEB), and Project for Rural Income through Exports (PRICE) as the funder.

The variety was released two weeks ago at RAB’s Rubona research station in Huye District and it is expected to be distributed to farmers in all parts of the country.

Joseph Bigirimana, the lead researcher for the team that developed the variety, said that it is disease resistant and slightly tastier than the previous varieties. He said the variety will be able to increase yield on tree by over 20 per cent.

“The variety can produce five kilogrammes of coffee cherries per tree compared to between two and three kilogrammes for the other varieties,” he added. He said a hectare piece of land can grow 2,500 coffee trees.

He said they tested the new variety at RAB Rubona Station and in various districts in the country including Kirehe, Ngoma, Gicumbi, Rutsiro, Nyanza and Rusizi, and it gave good results in all these areas.

He said as the climate change persists, the existing varieties are becoming more vulnerable which would cause serious problems in the near future, adding that there are other more profitable varieties they are still researching about and they will soon introduce them to farmers.

According to RAB, though the coffee varieties that are widely grown in Rwanda, BM 139 and Jackson, are known for their excellent cup quality attributes, both are susceptible to Coffee Leaf Rust (CLR), and Hemileia vastatrix, the most serious of devastating coffee diseases in Rwanda.

The RAB director general, Dr Louis Butare, said it is estimated that as much as 40 per cent of the coffee crop is lost annually to CLR and Coffee Berry Disease (CBD).

He said the new variety, which is disease resistant, is a solution to the coffee industry.

“The main important thing is that the money a farmer gets from coffee will increase, that’s when they will get interest in growing the crop,” he said adding that such milestones are the return on investment the government sinks into research.

Theopiste Nyiramahoro, the representative of coffee farmers and the president of the Rwanda Coffee Cooperatives’ Federation (RCCF), said coffee diseases and pests have blighted the crop and that the new variety is a relief for them.

“We have been incurring a lot of expenses on pesticides in the effort to contain the diseases, which has affected the farmers’ returns. Now that the new variety is disease resistant and will increase production capacity, there is hope for all of us in the industry,” she said.

Jean Paul Ndamwemera, a coffee farmer from Rusizi District, expressed concern over the coffee produce volatility and requested to have in place a system to ensure that any coffee variety released maintains its potential productivity.

The NAEB’s Coffee Division Manager, Dr Celestin M. Gatarayiha, said “We have the control on the quantity and quality of coffee,” adding that there is need for concerted efforts to multiply the new variety which is disease resistant but also to follow up on farmers to ensure they embrace good agricultural practices to maximize its potential.

Last year, 2014, Rwanda exported 15,970 tonnes of coffee, worth $59.68 million, while it had exported 19,990 tonnes, for $54.9 million, in 2013.

By Emmanuel Ntirenganya, The New Times

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