“In 1904, the German missionaries introduced coffee to Rwanda,” began Fiston Tuyisenge, our tour guide, as we listened attentively to his narration.
We were at Kinunu guest house which is home to Lake Kivu coffee plantation and the site of the Boneza Coffee Brand. Before us were various coffee beans, from raw to the ripe ones, giving us a clear mental picture of the stages that coffee goes through before the final product is arrived at.
“They took it from Ethiopia since that is where coffee originated from, and the missionaries tried to encourage Rwandans to grow coffee. The first place they tried to grow it was in the western province in Mibirizi which was later renamed Rusizi District.
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The second place they tried was in Nyundo parish, now called Rubavu, and the third one was in Kanage, which is now Rutsiro district,” he continued.
The Rwandese then began planting the coffee trees. In 1922, the first coffee factory was established in the western side of Rwanda called Nkora Washing Station. This allowed Rwanda to begin exporting dried beans instead of the red cherries, and in 1954, a second factory was established in Kigali called Masaka.
“There are presently 400,000 coffee farmers and we also have 30 million coffee trees. Annually, we produce between 20,000 and 22,000 metric tonnes,” explains Fiston.
With growing interest in as far as experiential travel is concerned and also in a bid to diversify their product, more countries are showing a preference for agritourism.
This is a form of commercial enterprise that links agricultural production with tourism to attract visitors onto a farm, ranch, or other agricultural business for the purposes of entertaining or educating the visitors while generating income for the farm, ranch, or business owner.
Agritourism also helps in preserving the agricultural heritage and history and can be a way of connecting with the locals of a country. This is an avenue that Rwanda is keen to explore.
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“We started offering coffee tours in 2010 because many tourists were here and were interested in learning about the cash crop. This was where we got the idea to start offering packages for tourists who mostly don't know how coffee looks like before processing,” says Fiston.
The tours cost $20 per person. The washing station has scenic views of lake Kivu, and visitors who take a boat tour get to enjoy stunning views of the lake as well as the surrounding islands. The tour takes around two hours, and one gets to learn all about coffee, and if you like, you can stay at the guest house.
But this is not the only place where one can experience agritourism in Rwanda.
In the southwestern part, one can enjoy scenic views of tea. At Nyungwe forest, there are tea estates situated at an altitude of 7,500 feet above sea level. Nyungwe forest is one of the oldest ice forests in Africa and the tea produced there is ranked as one of the world’s finest.
We toured Ivomo, a social enterprise that was created for the purpose of community-based tourism. This was after a moderate hike to Ndambarare Waterfall, one of the many hiking trails at Nyungwe National Park which varies between 1,730 and 1,932 metres above sea level. The stunning site of tea and the forest as I hiked made me forget how numbing my feet were even as we descended down the hill in search of the waterfall.
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At Ivomo, we met Rick Masumbuko who, after serenading us, gave us a brief history of the plantation and took us around the tea museum. Inside we saw the first hurricane lamp that the founders used, a bicycle, a calabash to put milk for wedding ceremonies as well as a traditional machete to trim or prune tea.
“Just like coffee, tea traces its roots back to the early 20th century, when German missionaries introduced its plants to the country. Since then, the Rwandan tea industry has grown, transforming the nation into a prominent tea producing country in East Africa,” he explains.