Rwanda Trading Company was established in 2009 as a vehicle for positive social impact. We are committed to securing economic freedom and security for smallholder farmers by building resilient, transparent supply chains.
We believe that profitable and ethical business go hand in hand. Our model is built on trust and communication. From the outset, we have established partnerships with farmers to help them in the field and to work with them to create stability and mitigate risk.
We focus on quality and invest in production. RTC offer financial literacy, agribusiness management and agronomy training programs to increase yield and keep them operational, profitable and healthy. We oversee milling, processing and quality control and provide access to the futures market to secure the best prices for farmers.
It’s a highly collaborative effort that generates long-term economic stability from the ground up.
Our headquarters and dry mill are in Kigali where the majority of our 250 full-time and 500 seasonal employees work. RTC processes and exports 25% of Rwanda’s yearly coffee production. We own and operate sixteen wet milling stations and work directly with farmers throughout Rwanda – buying, milling, processing and marketing their coffees. We service roaster clients throughout the United States, Europe and Asia.
RTC owns and manages 16 washing stations in Rwanda, and works directly with over 50 independent wet mills throughout the country to help improve production, quality and to market their coffees around the globe.
Shyara Mountain washing station
Farmers in the programme
Yield per tree, per year (kg)
Farmers in the programme
Average cup score by year (Based on SCAA)
Farmers in the programme
Coffee cherries delivered to Shyara (T)
Freshly picked cherries at Shyara
A farmer's coffee cherries prior to sorting and processing
RTC sorters at the washing station
Location: Ruhuha Sector, Bugasera District, Eastern Province
Coordinates: -2.312624, 30.058808
CWS: Shyara Mountain
CWS Relationship: RTC-owned
In 2013, Rwanda Trading Company embarked on a long-term agronomy project in the Bugasera District of Rwanda’s Eastern Province. Our aim was to improve quality, yield and farmer income from coffee crops. At the time, farmers were largely isolated and poorly informed; the delivery of their coffee cherries to the local Shyara Mountain washing station was disorganized and often undertaken by local drivers who were not associated with the washing station itself. There was no central organization to oversee the prices farmers were being paid for their crop, no incentive to produce greater quality coffee and no training program to support good agricultural practices. As a result, coffee was often sun-scorched, top soil was eroded and the soil lacked critical nutrients. Farmers had no insight into the price paid by roasters for their coffee and no incentive or opportunity to improve their crop.
On average, each farmer owned 300 trees. At the time, each tree was producing 0.9 kg of cherry per season, far below the 4 kg optimum yield for Rwanda Bourbon variety. When cupped and graded at the RTC lab and factory in Kigali, the average cup score for the 49 tons of coffee from Ruhuha Sector (based on SCAA grading system) was 79 – the equivalent score of a decent commercial grade coffee.
We hired a field officer, (Theoneste Suremwe), to assess strengths and weaknesses, liaise with coffee farmers and introduce them to our aims and approach.
Theoneste organized 184 male farmers and 114 female farmers into 7 groups and established a monthly training program to encourage good agricultural practices. Twenty-four farmers were elected as spokespersons to offer further local training and additional guidance to the farmer groups. By empowering farmer groups to replace middlemen with members of their own group, extra revenue was captured. This money is now being used by farmers to establish community savings and loan funds.
By the 2014 season the training program was successfully adopted, particularly by the younger farmers. They showed a 10% yield increase as a result of the training. This offered assurance to some of the older farmers who appreciated the immediacy of the payments they had received in 2013 but were slightly skeptical about the positive yield increases that we had predicted for 2014.
The program gathered momentum – farmers appreciated our price transparency, were keeping accurate records and implementing better agricultural practices, working closely with Theoneste and attending multiple trainings per month. Although, coffee was still being damaged by the sun, the ground was mulched and fertilized and anti erosion techniques instated.
Farmers began to call themselves RTC farmers – proof that the program was generating unity amongst the previously fragmented coffee farming households / coffee growing community. Countrywide, the 2014 Rwandan coffee harvest was lower than anticipated due to abnormal weather patterns, but the RTC farmer groups working with Shyara comfortably met their targeted 10% yield increase.
If 2014 represented a successful first year for the programand the farmers involved, 2015 has surpassed expectations. Building on the improvements made in 2014, farmers have been able to maintain complete transparency on every purchase and have organized floating and hand sorting stations at their two collection sites. The 7 groups have unified and have begun to manage the sites collectively, cutting ties with third party site collectors who had been responsible for some of the disorganization that the groups faced in the past. As a result of the program, farmers are self-motivated and have started their own savings and loan programs with our assistance. The farms look healthy, plants are stronger and less susceptible to pestilence and sun damage and cases of potato defect are down.
At the close of the 2015 harvest, exceptional progress was seen in both volume and quality. One hundred and nineteen tons were delivered to Shyara Mountain Washing Station from Ruhuha with an average yield increase per farmer of 155% (to 2.6kg per tree) compared to the baseline yield in 2013. When cupped in our lab, the average cup score had risen to 83 and there were two boxes of 85+ plus coffees. The Inzovu Supreme coffees from this station have become favorites for specialty buyers and professional cuppers, surpassing coffees produced in the west of the country where elevation, soil and rainfall are more favorable. As a result of all these improvements, the Ruhuha farmers received RFA certification in 2015.
Success has energized the groups and clarified their vision. They can now plan more effectively for the future. All farmers have completed GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) training and will have finished RTC courses in group management, transparency standards, farm business and accounting principles by December 2015. The group’s aim is to reach the 4kg optimum yield for Rwandan Bourbon variety and are on course to achieve this by 2017. To safeguard against sun damage in the future, RTC is advocating the purchase of shade seedlings funded by the farmers’ savings groups.
In 2016 all groups’ deliveries to the station will be separated in order to cup, score and provide feedback to each group about the quality that they are achieving. This will also allow buyers to purchase coffees from specific farmer groups that they have selected, allowing for 100% traceability from farmer to consumer.