Crammed onto the backseat of a beaten down old honda civic with 4 fellow men, African beats crackling on the radio, FRANK made his way to the Uganda – Rwanda border in style.
Due to a complete lack of public transport on the Rwandan side, I hitchhiked to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, with a young couple that had been just over the border in Uganda for a weekend of wild partying and loud music, both of which seem to be absent in Rwanda, I was told.
After only 10 minutes of driving, the first police officers pull us over with a hefty fine. Turns out we were driving 5km/h above the 40km/h speed limit on the highway. No kidding. One thing was clear; I was no longer in Uganda.
While this high level of management can appear limiting in some ways, it certainly means the tea industry in Rwanda is much better organized than in Uganda, which comes with many advantages. Instead of the Ugandan tea farmers selling their green leaves to different factories at volatile prices for instance, tea farmers in Rwanda belong to smallholder associations that supply the green leaves regularly to one of the 16 privatized tea factories.
Rwanda is small, yet it’s that feeling of newfound possibilities that makes this country seem special. Like a hidden gem in the depth of Africa, Rwanda is getting ready to show the world how a poverty-stricken country with the heavy burden of history, turns into an important player in the global tea industry. ‘We will never outdo India in terms of volume and tea prices, but where we can differentiate ourselves is quality. Quality over quantity, high-altitude over lowlands, fertilizers overs pesticides’, I couldn’t agree more.
At the same time, how to maximize the impact on tea farmers in Rwanda, is simultaneously FRANK’s main challenge and opportunity. That’s why we’ve been talking to the smallholder associations directly to figure out a way to improve the lives of farmers in the long-term, and most of all how to disrupt the outdated tea sector at large. Besides sourcing locally, Farmer Field Schools (FFS) are one way forward. Most of all, it comes down to raising the social and economic value of (Rwandan) tea globally. This starts with the farmers plucking the leaves in Rwanda’s highlands, and extends all the way to you, the consumer, appreciating your cup of Rwandan tea, at the other end of the chain.
The possibilities in East Africa are abundant for FRANK, and our journey has taken some surprising turns. Stay tuned to find out what we have in store. Disruption guaranteed.
Keep it FRANK,
Valerie & David