Coffee harvest gets underway in Rwanda

The coffee harvest is underway throughout Rwanda. The harvest normally starts in March, but this year some farmers began picking the precious cherries from as early as mid-February. Good rains at the end of 2011 helped the crop along, so I’m told. I spent a day in Ruhuha sector in Bugesera district in the south of Rwanda last week to talk to coffee farmers and learn how the harvest is going.

Here’s the report I put together for Reuters. One snippet that didn’t make the final version of the Reuters report is at once both surprising and blindingly obvious when you think about…

There is no coffee culture in Rwanda. Rwandans generally drink tea, often very milky, or sometimes of the ginger variety. In fact, outside of Ethiopia, there is no coffee culture in this part of Africa. All of which means it shouldn’t really surprise anyone that most coffee farmers in Rwanda have never tasted so much as a single shot of their own coffee,

Under the burning sun in the dry fields of Ruhuha, Jean Minani plucks berries from one of twenty or more coffee trees on his small plot of land and throws them into a plastic basin.

After washing in Ruhuha, they are sorted, roasted and bagged in Kigali, before winding up in the cafes and supermarkets of Europe and the United States. But, has the man at the beginning of the coffee chain ever tasted the drink made from the fruits of his farm?

“I’ve never tasted coffee,” said Minani. “We don’t know how to make coffee, so we cannot taste it.”

Not to mention, espresso machines and cafetières are less than ubiquitous in rural Rwanda.

Photographs taken from my Flickr account.