Demystifying the coffee supply chain

Written by Luiza Furquim
on May 22, 2024

Fresh samples from Rwanda are on the way. They will be available between the end of May and early June, as the country’s harvest moves to its final stage. Algrano has two shared shipments for Europe and one to the United States on schedule in 2024, leaving from the port of Mombassa in Kenya. They’ll carry coffees from Baho, Gasharu, Coopac and Jerika.

In this article, we’ll give you an overview of how the harvest has progressed so you know what to expect from this season’s coffee. We’ll also cover what’s been happening in Rwanda since the Ministry for Agriculture and Animal Resources announced the end of the coffee zoning law in 2023.

The end of the zoning law is good for farmers in one very obvious way. They are being paid a lot more for cherries. Here, we will also share the concerns of small washing station owners. They worry about the sector's sustainability in the country and which actors can survive the new free-for-all. 

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Weather review: off-season rain and delays 

In a typical year, the Rwanda coffee harvest starts between late February and early March. This year, however, the trees were still loaded with green cherries in April.

Producers say this delay was caused by too much rain in the first two months of the year, normally dry. They credit this to the El Niño weather phenomenon and climate change. 

Rwanda coffee natural

Irregular rains early in 2024 led to a higher proportion of Natural coffees (Photo: Gasharu)

Delays caused by rain are like a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the extra time the cherries have on the tree allows them longer to develop and mature, leading to better quality. On the other hand, too much rain affects how much mucilage the cherries have when harvesting. 

The reduction in mucilage isn’t dramatic enough to affect quality, but it’s impacted processing. And that might make a difference to roasters’ sourcing plans, whether they buy through Algrano or not.

Coffee cherries need more mucilage for wet processing methods (Fully Washed) than dry processing (Naturals). So Rwandese coffee washing stations are choosing Naturals more often than not this year.

Also, as the volume of cherry delivered early in the season was small, there just wasn’t enough to fill the fermentation tanks. 

“When it rains a lot we put more focus on Anaerobic coffee. This year, the volume of Anaerobic coffee will be high compared to Naturals and Washed,” confirmed Valentin Kimenyi of Gasharu.

He already has enough volume for two containers of this processing method and more cherries on the drying tables.  

Rwanda coffee farmers

Now, washing stations can buy coffee cherries from any zone (Photo: Gasharu)

Zoning policy: doubling NAEB’s minimum price for cherry

This year’s harvest is the first after Rwanda’s Ministry for Agriculture and Animal Resources revoked the zoning policy in June 2023. Introduced in 2016, it required coffee farmers to sell cherries only to washing stations in their district, strengthening local partnerships and controlling competition.

At the time of the announcement, the ministry didn’t give any official reason to justify the measure beyond increasing the volume of exports. However, inflation is high in the country and the value of Rwanda’s money declined. More volume is a known path to secure foreign currency. 

The end of the zoning policy means washing stations can buy coffee cherries from any zone. Now that producers and aggregators can sell to anyone anywhere, there is a widespread move for the highest bidder. Yes, this will have an impact on roasters too. “It’s crazy,” says Valentin. 

In February, NAEB (National Agricultural Export Development Board) announced a minimum recommended cherry price of 480 Rwandan francs per kilo. Competition always drives cherry prices to be higher than NAEB’s floor. Last year, they went from a minimum of 410 Rwf/kg to Rwf650/kg

The change is even more dramatic this year. Cherry prices reached 1,000 Rwf/kg over the past couple of weeks, just over two times more than NAEB’s minimum, according to Gasharu. This brought new people with no coffee experience to the sector. They buy cherries from farmers, stock them and sell them in bulk to whoever offers more money.

“In my experience here, these new people who invest in buying and selling cherries don’t want stability. Where they get more money, that’s where they go,” Valentin stresses.

He and other washing station leaders meet regularly to voice their concerns to NAEB. They hope the policy is reintroduced next year.  

Rwanda coffee cherriesGood for farmers this year, high cherry prices are also creating an unstable local market flooded with new actors who don't value relationships or traceability (Photo: Gasharu) 

Smaller exporters are at risk of being pushed out of the market

Producers like Valentin risk ending up with losses and less volume to export. They need twice as much money to pre-finance a container than last year. Farmers won’t simply sell cherries to washing stations that invest in relationships and projects because they do a better job.

“We’ve been working on projects and even pre-financing farmers through banks. When the harvest came, they still wanted to hear from other washing stations. If you don’t pay as much as your competitor, they say you’re robbing them,” Valentin explains. 

This is not only happening at Gasharu. Washing stations all over the country are facing the same issue. Valentin believes the measure only benefits large capitalised companies with better access to financing.
In Rwanda, this is mostly true for vertically integrated companies or actors outside the coffee sector. 

While higher prices are good for farmers, the end of the zoning policy can create a very different supply chain in the future. If smaller exporters are pushed out of the market because they can’t compete, only a handful of companies will survive. If few actors control the market, they have more power to push prices down.  

Valentin believes prices will go down before the end of the season. “If these buyers get the volume they want, they stop buying and leave. I'm sure prices will go down at the end of May because buyers will have the volume they need [to fulfil their contracts].” 

Rwanda coffee washing station

Small washing station owners fear Rwanda can become controlled by a handful of companies with more access to credit (Photo: Gasharu)

This is a critical year to support your suppliers in Rwanda, despite a price increase, and to help them voice their concerns. The end of the zoning law isn’t just a threat to exporters. It also threatens the traceability of Rwandan coffee at a time when the industry is being asked to map all farms.    

Smaller exporters like Baho, Gasharu, Coopac and Jerika are committed to quality and avoid buying cherries from different zones as that would change the profile of their coffees.

They will publish FOB prices when the offers are live. If you have any doubts about how this might impact your roastery, reach out to your sales manager so we can help you find a solution with producers. 

Shipping dates Europe 

Offer period: Late May to August
Shipments: August and September
Warehouse release: From December

Shipping dates USA 

Offer period: June to September
Shipment: October
Warehouse release: From February 2025


Coffees offered by producers from Rwanda in 2024



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