Rwanda and Tea
Tea was first introduced into the country of Rwanda in 1952. As of this writing, tea has become the country’s largest and most lucrative export.
Rwanda lies just south of the equator and is in the heart of Africa. The climate and the volcanic soil is very fertile and the conditions are perfect for the growing and the cultivating of tea.
Rwanda mainly produces black tea, but does harvest for white, green and specialty teas as well. The majority of teas are harvested on expansive plantations, but there are a few private growers and cooperatives. Tea is produced at about twelve factories in Rwanda. Here is a list of some of the most famous names: Gisovu Tea Estate, Gisakura Tea Estate, Rwanda Mountain Tea, Kitabi Tea Factory, Mulindi, Matta Tea Factory, Sorwathe Importers Inc.
Rwanda is a small country and it is broken into thirty districts of which eleven of them are active tea producers. Rwanda is producing great quality tea. The country ranks currently at the top 20th biggest tea producers in the world. This is despite this country’s past that once overshadowed their efforts. There is much beauty in this country. Tea has become a major part of the country’s economy, only second to the tourist trade. Tea has become also, one of the largest employers of its citizens.
In fact, tea has become a major part of the tourist trade as a few tea plantations/factories are open to the public for tours. There are two that are located near the Nyungwe National Park. Here the forests are very lush, and this temperate climate helps to sustain a great deal of wild life as well as the rolling hills that the tea is grown on.
To note, these lush forests have many species of rare birds as well as this is one of the only places where the last remaining mountain gorillas actually live on the planet! The area where the forest meet the tea plantations is referred to as the “Land of a Thousand Hills”. It has become sacred in a way. The tea plantations have survived the struggles that the country has faced with the help and intervention of the Wilderness Foundation of Africa (WFA) and the government to help increase the production of tea.
There are 12.2 million people in Rwanda, and the economy is overwhelmingly rural and has become very dependent on agriculture. In 2018 Rwanda earned about 9.5 million USD from exports of tea alone and that was an increase from the figures of 2017 of about 7.2%.
The sunny yet cool and very rainy climate along with the sloping hills are perfect for crops of tea. No other type of crop can grow in the high altitude as well. The tea in Rwanda is plucked by hand. The tea pickers usually work from Monday to Saturday and personally pluck about 180 pounds of tea leaves per day. A full basket of tea, which is carried on their back, will weigh anywhere from 30-40 pounds. Once their basket is full, the pickers will descend down to the weighing station. Here they will carry their large full baskets upon their heads. It is very hard work. The pickers get paid by the weight of their baskets. From there the baskets are taken to the tea factory. The tea process continues with the fermentation,(the process where green leaves turn to brown leaves) which is also done by hand and doted over by the fermenter who takes the temperature personally to ensure it is done to perfection. None of Rwanda’s tea process is done by machine. It is all done by hand.
Conservation and research of Rwanda’s crops, especially tea, is continually done by the National University of Rwanda and The Institute of Agriculture Science of Rwanda (ISAR). They help the tea industry there to ensure that their crops will remain fertile and viable for years to come.
In 1994, the country had many problems and genocide was committed. This totally decimated the then budding tea industry. Many people, including the vast majority of tea workers, died during this. Tea workers from all over Rwanda’s regions come together to remember and memorialize them every year.
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