President Paul Kagame on Sunday challenged residents of Karongi district to grow more tea to take advantage of the demand Rwandan tea has on the global market.
The Head of State made the call on Friday after visiting Rugabano Tea Factory, located in Karongi district, a public-private partnership between the Government of Rwanda and investors Silverback Tea Company, Luxmi Tea and the Sir Ian Wood Foundation.
President Kagame visited the facility on Sunday as he concluded his four-day citizen outreach tour in the South and Western Provinces of the country. The factory, which processes over 1, 000, 000 kilograms annually, is the youngest tea factory in the country.
He pointed out that the facility came to fruition after he met Rudra Chatterjee, the chairman, Luxmi Tea and UK-based philanthropist, Sir Ian Woods, and discussed what could be done to improve tea productivity in Rwanda.
President Kagame revealed that the government promised to do its part, by facilitating the expropriation of people from the hills located in Rugabano sector, whose soil was not producing much but was suitable for tea growing, and encouraged people to form tea growers’ cooperatives and engage in tea farming.
As a result, the government nearly Rwf8bn to relocate citizens to a model village in Rugabano, equipped with life changing facilities and livestock, and also rallied them to engage in tea farming.
In 2017, the government negotiated with Luxmi Tea and in 2019 the factory officially opened and currently employs close to 2,000 workers and benefits over 4,000 community members through cooperatives.
The Head of State hailed the partnership but challenged farmers to do more to produce enough tea to meet the global demand of Rwanda’s premium teas.
President Kagame thanked Rudra and David Knopp, Director of Africa for The Wood Foundation, who represented Sir Ian Wood, for their contribution in developing the tea factory which employs many citizens and pledged the support of the government to increase tea production.
“It is said that Rwandan tea, with its quality and taste, is among the best teas worldwide. This is something that should not to be taken for granted,” President Kagame said, adding he is informed there is shortage because the supply does not meet the demand.
“We need to take this opportunity and multiply it as many times as possible. We have investors coming in, like Luxmi and Sir Ian Foundation. We need to focus on increasing the productivity for our own benefit,”
He pointed out that for that to happen, the government will play its part as one of the partners, by building roads and other infrastructures as earlier mentioned, as well as availing more land allocated to tea farming.
“We will do whatever it takes on our part. We want you cooperatives to increase your output,” President Kagame told the tea farmers who represented their respective cooperatives grouped under the Rugabano Out-growers Scheme.
Speaking at the occasion, Rudra Chatterjee, a grandson of PC Chatterjee, the founder of Luxmi Tea, said that it was a special day for all the people who have been working over the last three years to make the Rugabano dream come true.
He hailed Rwanda for the facilitation it gives investors and the leadership that brings ideas to life.
“Rwanda is a nation of Hope and opportunity and I have a small anecdote to share, of how I first time I came here in 2016. I knew absolutely nobody in this country but ended up here,”
“I learned that to invest into Rwanda, I should visit the RDB and I did. I explained what I’m interested in and I got a meeting on the same day,” Chatterjee said, adding that once he spoke about his passion for tea, built on the history of over 100 years started by his grandfather who founded Luxmi Tea, he was shown around.
It is then that he visited the area and one year later, in August 2017, the agreement signed with the government and two years later, in August 2019, the factory which now produces some of the best teas in Africa and the world, was launched.
“The opportunity that the people and the government of Rwanda has given us, trusting someone they did not know at all, and partnering with us at every step, and then enabling us to invest in additional tea properties in Gisovu and Pfunda, made all the difference,” he said.
So far, in partnership with Silverback and the Wood Foundation, they have invested over $12m and they are looking to invest up to $40 in the coming years.
“The land which was barren already has over 1500 hectares planted out and frankly, in my time, I’ve never seen tea bushes that grow so fast. It’s the nature of the soil,”
He said that once the tea is fully grown and the bushes sitting on an expected 4,000 hectares come to fruition, it will become the largest tea factory in the world.
“More importantly, I hope it will be one of the best quality tea factories in the world. You know today Rwanda is already the best quality tea producer of Africa, but whether it is in black tea, white tea, green tea or flavoured tea, the opportunity of this country is endless,”
“We should become the number one country for the world’s number one beverage, which is tea. The partnership that we have seen has been exceptional,” he said, thanking President Kagame for his visionary leadership and that he is very proud to be associated with Rwanda.
On his part, Knopp, representing the Wood Foundation also thanked the government of Rwanda for its efforts in bringing the project to life and the people are now benefiting directly.
“Less than six years ago, this area had a bit of forestry, there was a bit of subsistence farming, but this certainly was no commercial farming and there was no Industrial development,”
“The Wood Foundation Africa, Luxmi Group, the Government of Rwanda, with some support also from the British government embarked on a long-term venture in 2017 to transform the region through a significant greenfield development in tea,”
“The partnership was based on our collective strengths. So, Luxmi being one of the premier tea companies in the world, focusing 100% on quality and the Wood Foundation Africa, has philanthropic investors focusing on the smallholder tea development, was a match made in heaven,” Knopp said, adding that the partnership has enabled the success of the vision.
He said the vision is to plant out some 350 to 400 hectares and put in place a state-of-the-art factory that would absorb tea grown on about 4,000 smallholder farmers, who would become the main beneficiaries of the investment.
President Kagame promised the farmers and the investors that the government will put in place the required infrastructure needed for the investment to flourish, including a road network to connect tea plantations and providing more land to farmers.
He also toured the factory, which is already socially and economically transforming the area and also promised the farmers that incentives will be provided to them to grow more tea.
Over 340 households which inhabited the hills, previously prone to natural disasters and were not arable, were moved to a state-of-the-art model village in Rugabano. President Kagame told local leaders to preserve the model village for the benefit of the people.