Rwanda sees coffee harvest up 50 pct in 2012
* Country targeting new markets, including China
* Dry spell could dampen harvest for some farmer
By Graham Holliday
KIGALI, March 15 (Reuters) - Rwanda's coffee output could rise by 50 percent this year due to a bumper harvest after good rains late last year, and the small but fertile central African country is eyeing newer outlets for its high quality, speciality coffee.
Rwanda, a much smaller producer compared to its neighbour and Africa's top exporter Uganda, grows high quality, Arabica coffee beans much of which is exported mainly to the United States, Europe, Japan and South Korea.
Coffee export earnings rose to $75 million in 2011 from $56 million a year earlier. The country's foreign exchange earnings are dominated by tourism, mining, tea and coffee exports.
"In 2012 we are recognising a few new markets for the U.S. and the Nordic countries," said Robinha Uwera, coffee marketing officer of the Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB).
"And China. Some other people (from China) are sure that they would like to buy for this year's season."
The agriculture export agency said coffee exports could rise to 24,000 tonnes in 2012 on increased rainfall and the natural cycle of the Arabica bean.
The coffee harvest, which normally starts in March, began as early as the middle of February in some parts of the country.
NAEB data showed that in 2011, Rwandan coffee was selling at $5.60 per kg for export, but 2012 prices are expected to be lower because the price on the international market has dropped. At present a kg of coffee ready for export is selling at $4.10.
Despite the forecast increase in output, some farmers are worried about the prices which have been trending lower.
In Ruhuha sector, which lies in Bugesera district, almost 60 km south of Kigali, farmers say a recent dry spell could affect their harvest.
"In the last four years, the harvest was good. But this year things are not good. As farmers, we are scared. We see that the weather is changing so you cannot promise a good harvest," said Jean Minani, who has grown coffee in Ruhuha for over 30 years.
Small holder farmers like Minani typically harvest between 10 and 15 kg per day during the coffee season. Farmers are encouraged by the government to use mulch and grow other trees to mitigate effects of the dry weather on the coffee.
Rwanda has reduced the farm gate price for coffee cherries to 170 Rwanda francs per kg from 200 francs. This is the first time the price has been lowered mid-season.
"Many people come, tell us the price is too low because of the financial crisis and whatever and they pay what they want," Vestine Kankindi, another farmer said.
"Sometimes we can learn the price from the radio, otherwise we are paid little money and we don't know how to tell the exact price." (Editing by James Macharia and Jason Neely)
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