Rotimi Olawale: Making a Fortune out of Blending Rwandan Coffee

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Olawale Ajimotokan

Olawale Ajimotokan reports on the enduring breakthrough of a young Nigerian entrepreneur, Rotimi Olawale, who is making headway in the agricultural value chain by exporting Rwandan coffee

Rotimi Olawale ploughs where others are not so bold to explore. He is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of JFarms Africa, that is driving opportunities for business and growth.

His company takes the lead in the coffee production value chain in Rwanda, shaping the agriculture sector in Africa through sustainable food production, increased incomes for farmers, value addition and job creation.

The Nigerian and the government backed Rwanda Farmers Coffee Company signed a strategic agreement in Kigali in on February 27, this year to produce and export roasted coffee to the global market.

Rwanda produces one of the best coffee beans in the world, which is highly demanded from various parts of the world. It is estimated that about 2.25 billion cups of coffee is consumed by 1.6 billion people on a daily basis.
Coffee is a darkly coloured drink prepared from roast coffee beans. There are many species of the product, including the famous Arabica and Robusta that create different tastes and fragrance.

It is one of the most important and valuable commodities in the world of agriculture and a major foreign exchange earner for many developing countries.

Brazil is the world’s leading coffee producing nation. The South American nation produces about 2,249,010 metric tonnes of coffee per year on plantation that covers about 27,000 square km. Other top exporters are Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Mexico, Peru, Honduras and Guatemala.

Ethiopia is Africa’s leading coffee producer, with cultivation estimated at 264,000 metric tonnes per year on land area covering 4,000 square km.

The World Coffee Review rated the landlocked Rwanda as among the 30 leading coffee producing nations in the world. It is ranked among the leading exporters of Arabica coffee. The commodity which was introduced in Rwanda by German missionaries in 1904, accounted for about four per cent of the Rwanda’s exports in 2016. The production of coffee has increased through the years and reached its peak in the mid 1980s.

Since 2000, the Rwandan government has focused more attention on the strategic development of the industry. Since the implementation of the national land use consolidation policy in 2007, total coffee plantation area has increased from 30,000 hectares to 55,030 hectares.

The country now produces between 16,000 and 20,000 metric tonnes of coffee annually, with the growth prompting increasing interest and recognition from international companies.

Olawale, who produces coffee under the name JR Coffee, exports to Nigeria, Canada, United States of America, Cote d’Ivoire and Egypt. He started by producing four metric tonnes of coffee per day in Rwanda. His factory has the capacity to produce 15 tonnes of coffee beans per day and is presently expanding the market in order to increase the market production and maximise the capacity of the facility.

“We don’t have any coffee farm. The coffee value chain is very long, nobody can play at all levels and be successful. It starts from the farm to the washing stations, then to bean removal from the husk and then to roasting. We are roasters, we get coffee from farmers, roast, package and sell to the market,” he clarified.

Providing insight into his coffee production arrangement with Rwanda Farmers Coffee Company and the level of government of Rwanda assistance towards the scheme, Olawale stressed the partnership with Rwandan government is to source, produce and export coffee to the global market.

He lauded the government of Rwanda as supportive, saying its various business friendly policies have made it easy to do business in the tiny East and Central African country.

The Nigerian entrepreneur, who is in partnership with the Nigeria Prisons Service to train and empower inmates in vegetable farming, declared that he explored the business side of Rwanda because of its visionary leadership under President Paul Kagame.

He highlighted that political stability has helped his business to thrive in addition to leadership which is essential for the economic transformation of any nation.

“We chose Rwanda because of the stable and visionary leadership the country enjoys. As you are aware, political stability is key for economic growth of any nation, and since Rwanda enjoys noticeable level of stability and appetite for growth, we decided to do business in Rwanda. So far we have had great time doing business there. Also the climate is favourable for coffee to grow. Coffee originated from east Africa and Rwanda is part of that region”.

Beyond the challenges of logistics, JFarms Africa, according to Olawale, is not inhibited by competition since it does not sell locally.

He disclosed that given that the country is landlocked, its exports majorly are routed several kilometres away through the ports in Mombasa (Kenya) and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania).
This arrangement, he admitted is expensive. The logistics challenges add up to the price of the commodity as it costs more to export by air.

Incidentally, while there is growing demand for his product in Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire, the climate in West Africa, which is adaptable for cocoa cultivation, does not allow coffee to be grown in commercial quantities.

Apart from logistics, he noted that the global coffee market is handicapped by other challenges, notably of which are import policies of various nations, fluctuating prices, quality control and consumer preference for tea. He also offered insights into how to respond to those challenges.

He said: “The global coffee market is very vast with lot of fast changing trends because it is advanced. Coffee market is largely outside Africa, so challenges centre on logistics, import policies of various nations, fluctuating prices, maintaining quality among others.

“We have very strong team and partnership with stakeholders that give us an edge over these challenges. For logistics, we have a partner company that we work with on common ground. For import policies of various nations, we have partner commodity brokers who keep us updated about changing local policies in different countries where we export to.”

He highlighted that JFarms is investing in educating people about the benefits of coffee through the social media and other marketing streams, to address the concern on low consumption of coffee by Nigerians, irrespective of their age group.