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MARKUP-ICU Study Finds Export Opportunities for Rwanda Coffee

MARKUP, through ICU and in partnership with Kahawatu Foundation and Positive Planet International, analysed and addressed key challenges for the Rwandan coffee sector to achieve its full potential. The study observed that for Rwanda to increase its market share, emphasis should be on more diversified coffee processing methods, introduction of new coffee varieties, and increased organic coffee production.  

Traceability is a growing trend in specialty markets, though requirements and expectations vary significantly depending on market segments (e.g. entry-level, premium and niche). Digital tools are increasingly considered the most effective means to enhance traceability of the coffee value chain. Rwanda has the potential to be a good example of traceability that is aligned with the national sector policies, but it could also go a step further by introducing national grading system and regional cup profiles. 

While brands in high-income coffee-consuming countries have long retained most of its value, changes in consumption habits are creating unexpected, broadening and industry-shifting demands. This has led to greater recognition of growers and origins, which has been a major factor propelling the rise of specialty coffee.  

Rwanda has approximately 400,000 smallholder coffee growers, and coffee has proven its potential to contribute to the Rwandan economy. The last 20 years have seen great quality improvement since the building of Coffee Washing Stations (CWS) and government support and investment. Rwanda’s coffee is well known for its consistent quality and considered among market players a go-to source for fully washed good-quality coffeeHowever, Rwandan coffee has yet to achieve its full potential as a certified specialty product that is differentiated and strategically placed in international markets with capacity to sustain its position.  

Engagement with CWS revealed a wide-spread desire to access international markets directly. However, lack of direct market linkages combined with limited experience in marketing, pricing and exporting strategies has tampered CWS ambitions. To revert this trend, CWS should engage on a path to export designed to strengthen export capacities through training and partnerships with established exporters. Direct access to international markets will also require greater emphasis on the implementation of price risk management strategies to mitigate CWS risk exposure to price fluctuations

Rwandan coffee has had an exciting trajectory over the last decade. It is now a well-known origin on the market, offering good-quality fully washed coffee. While Rwanda’s coffee sector is characterized by a few weaknesses and faces some threats, Rwanda is an established origin in the specialty market in the US, Europe and, more recently, East Asia. The study uncovers room for Rwandan coffee to capture greater market share and increase competitiveness of its product offering. 

Photo credit: MARKUP-ICU