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Planning and costing agriculture’s adaptation in Rwanda: Small-holder cash-cropping (coffee)

Summary of country findings: Rwanda

This study is one of 5 country studies (Bangladesh, Malawi, Nepal, Rwanda and Tanzania) exploring planning and costing agriculture’s adaptation to climate change. The agricultural system described smallholder cash-cropping, with associates chiefly including bananas, as well as Irish potato, maize, beans and livestock.


In Rwanda agriculture contributes to over a third of GDP, employs more than 80% of the workforce and supplies 90% of the nation’s food. Coffee is a key crop, not only providing cash incomes for some 500,000 Rwandan families (almost one-quarter of the national population) (OCIR-CAFE, 2005), but also as the country’s top export and chief source of foreign exchange income (Boudreaux, et al., 2009). Coffee is grown by smallholders in fragmented pockets on just 6.3% of Rwanda’s cultivated land. There are no large-scale mono-crop coffee plantations in Rwanda. Crucially the high quality of Rwandan coffee, which is as much a result of the processing procedure as of the favourable soils and climate, means it is able to command premium prices on international markets. Maintaining both the quantity and quality of Rwandan coffee in the face of climate change necessitates an assessment of actions required at all stages of the supply chain.

Although coffee is grown across the whole country, its production is highly dependent on soil, topography and climatic conditions, as well as the local socio-economic conditions, and as such the quantity and quality of coffee production varies across the country. This study considered three sites in the east (Nyanza district), west (Nyamasheke district) and south (Huye district) of the country, which each grow varieties suited to the local conditions, to take into account these differences in quality.

The genocide of 1994 has had a lasting effect on Rwanda. The knowledge and skills in many sectors are still recovering and being rebuilt. It should be noted that developments in coffee production in Rwanda have occurred almost entirely in the past decade. Prior to 2001 Rwanda produced no fully washed coffee and did not participate in high value global specialty coffee markets.

Coffee-Climate linkages

Farm level

Ideal conditions for growing Arabica coffee are temperatures of 18°C at night and 22°C during the day. Temperatures above 25°C reduce photosynthesis and temperatures above 30°C can damage blossoms and result in fruits with defects. Climatic changes also may have an effect on the incidence of various diseases that reduce crop quantity and quality.

Rainfall patterns affect the coffee crop with long dry periods detrimental to coffee production. The concentration of rainfall into a shorter, more intense wet season increases soil erosion and makes maintaining an adequate water supply to the coffee bushes more difficult. The patterns of rainfall also influence when the coffee flowers and the cherries ripen. Whilst moisture is important, sunlight is also an important variable on how coffee grows.

The level of atmospheric humidity is important; low humidity increases evapo-transpiration of the bushes but very high humidity adversely effects coffee quality. 60% relative humidity (RH) is ideal. RH, which is persistently above 85%, reduces coffee quality.


Climate related variables are also important in some aspects of the post-farm processing. Coffee beans are generally sun-dried so rains in the harvesting season slow the rate at which coffee washing stations can process harvested cherries. In addition heavy rainfall can cause mudslides in the mountainous terrain where the coffee is grown. This can adversely affect roads and delay the movement of cherries once harvested to the coffee washing stations, contributing to diminished quality. These types of challenges are likely to increase under a changing climate.

To a significant extent the value of coffee at the farm gate is dependent on the capacity of the processing system to process cherries quickly and to a high standard after they leave the farm. The maintenance of high quality coffee production at farm level can only realise a premium if there is sufficient capacity in the post farm processing system.

Adaptation and Development

The improvements in the coffee sector are seen as a significant pillar of national development plans. The coffee sector benefits from strong political support, unlikely to wane in the near future. Policies emphasise land consolidation, intensification, improved water management, coffee storage and transport and the availability of agricultural finance and credit, striving towards a modernised agriculture that is competitive on specialty markets. A changing climate poses additional challenges in achieving this.

In particular changing climatic stresses and shocks affect the timing of coffee production. Farmers have already noted that the June-August dry season is lengthening, and that this is causing a delay in the flowering of the coffee. The heavy rains expected in March have reduced in intensity, meaning the cherries do not start to ripen until April. Non-systematic shifts of climate variables are facilitating the migration of pest and disease.

Coffee washing station owners emphasised that in years with poor rainfall, the harvesting period was shorter, resulting in a higher peak in production that meant they are not always able to process all the coffee to the standard required by the specialty coffee market.

Adaptation options and costs

Adaptation to climate change and general development in the coffee sector are very difficult to separate. In the processing system adaptation and development generally takes the form of greater investment in processing capacity through building more washing stations and improving roads. It must be noted however that the shortening of the coffee harvesting season means that processing capacity will be lying idle for a greater proportion of the year. This will reduce returns to investment unless a corresponding increase in quality can be secured to offset the shorter season.

At the farm level adaptation and development take the form of better distribution of inputs including fertiliser and pesticides, investment in capital such as spraying equipment and improved extension services to raise farmer knowledge and skills. It is hoped that this will reduce losses, both quantitative and qualitative, through disease and pests and maintain better soil quality.

As well as direct investment in the coffee production and processing system, the need to have better functioning institutions coordinate development and adaptation actions was recognised. Such institutional investments, which would significantly improve coordination and adaptive capacity, are shown in the table below:

Annual adaptation costs estimations for now and in 2030 in US $



Costs now

(US $)

Costs in 2030 (US $)

1. Creation of prominent and knowledge-based Centre of Climate Change Economics and Agriculture Development

a. Government (Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning)

b. Donors and Civil Society Organizations: the Government should plan strategically in interesting and mobilizing theses institutions to allocate money in the establishment of the centre



2. Research, development and distribution of new varieties better adapted to new climate conditions

a. Rwanda Agricultural Research Institute (ISAR)

b. Donors, Civil Society Organisations



3. Intensification of infrastructure development in rural areas

a. Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources

b. Ministry of Infrastructure

c. Donors, Civil Society Organisations



4. Disaster Relief Preparedness

a. Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs



5. Wastewater treatment plan and Watershed management

a. Ministry of Environment

b. Ministry of Agriculture Animal Resources

c. Ministry of Infrastructure

d. Donors, Civil Society Organisations






As well as institutional and coordination costs there will be a number of areas of direct investment in coffee systems which should support both adaptation and development. It should be noted however that these are combined adaptation and development costs. Despite the best efforts of the country team separation of these costs was not possible.

Additional Direct Investment Needs



Costs now

(US $)

Costs in 2030 (US $)

1. Implement turn-around program for washing stations to improve their productivity and profitability, including wider application of the post-sale premium payment schemes


b. Washing station owners



2. Support the operationalisation of the Coffee Marketing Alliance, including systems of quality control, and the Cup of Excellence Program;

Create additional value added activities




3. toll roasting and partnerships with major buyers abroad




4. Carry out adaptive research on coffee varieties (e.g. Panama from Ethiopia)

Rwanda Agricultural Research Institute (ISAR)



5. Replacing old coffee plantations with plantings of new varieties that are of better quality and are more disease resistant, and develop multiplication centres for new seedlings







Box: Coffee production in Rwanda

National Institutional Arrangements

The market orientation of the coffee system in Rwanda makes it a specialised system, subject to both market and non-market signals for its adaptation. Even though government has a policy for promoting coffee production, the day-to-day activities are run by specialised parastatals that derive their revenues from coffee. The advantage of this arrangement is that market mechanisms can be followed easily to both improve system performance as well as its adaptation to climate change. The disadvantage is that the system would often be overlooked in national adaptation policies, which could leave thousands of smallholder producers vulnerable to climate change.

There is an opportunity for cross-institutional coordination in Rwanda through the Agriculture Sector-Wide working group, which brings together the different agricultural agencies for specific crops in the country. This working group has been instrumental in harmonizing activities and contributing to a shared vision with the effective collaboration of implementing agencies, donors and support agencies and key stakeholders. The country study shows that rapid progress and success has been achieved under the programmes of the agricultural transformation strategic plan initiative. It is through such a platform that agricultural adaptation in different systems could be promoted.

Market-based adaptation opportunities are greatest in Rwanda as coffee is exported, and fair-trade-related routes could be used to channel private sector adaptation funds to this system. Similarly, low carbon agricultural development has potential in the coffee system, as there are vast opportunities to improve its efficiency in production and processing. Rwanda is one of the countries that has taken early steps to explore low-carbon development opportunities.

Like most countries, one of the institutional weaknesses in Rwanda is the separation of climate change lead agencies from other sectors, which leads to the current lag between policy and implementation.

National Study Team

Content produced by: A research team led by Dr. Ngabitsinze, J.C., Mukashema, A., Ikirezi, M., and Niyitanga, F., 2011. National University of Rwanda. Adapting “tree crop farming systems” to climate change: Coffee in Rwanda.

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