Historical and socio-economic context: Tea was introduced in Rwanda in 1952, and was grown on hillsides and well-drained marshes at high altitude between 1,550m and 2,500m above sea level. Tea production peaked in the early 1970s and has since become a priority economic sector. Due to its location near the equator, excellent soils, ample sunshine, altitude and two rain seasons, Rwanda now consistently produces the best quality of black tea in East Africa, with tea becoming a major contributor to export earnings.
Data from the National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB) shows that Rwanda earned US$93 million from tea in 2019/2020, a 12% increase compared to 2018/2019. Tea export volumes increased 7% from 30,500 tonnes of made tea in 2018/2019 to 32,600 tonnes in 2019/2020.
The tea sector is the third largest employer, after coffee and public sectors, directly supporting a workforce of 60,000 people and a further 200,000 others indirectly, and offers significantly higher incomes to farmers, compared to traditional crops (upwards of five times the estimated revenue of US$ 300-400 per hectare per year from roots, tubers, pulses and maize). In some of the poorer regions such as Nyaruguru District, tea is one of the few crops that can thrive in the acidic soils.
Unlike seasonal crops such as coffee, tea provides a steady, regular income to farmers throughout the year.
Smallholder farmers dominate tea production in Rwanda, producing 67% of tea. There are more than 50,000 smallholder farmers in the sector who are organised into 21 farmers’ cooperatives and three farmers’ services companies. The remaining production comes from two tea plantation companies, three governmental plantations, and 16 industrial blocks. The dominance of smallholder farmers is supported by government policy.
 Mukantwari Noella, An Assessment of Performance of Rwanda Tea Sector In Agriculture Industry- A Case Study Of Ocir, 2011
Background on Mulindi Factory Company: Commercial tea production in Gicumbi District began in 1960 with the construction of the Mulindi Factory Company (MFC). It is now the oldest and biggest factory in Rwanda in terms of production with a capacity of 3,200 metric tonnes (MT). Between 1994 and 1996, the factory and the tea plantations were rehabilitated following the war.
The factory’s greenleaf is supplied from its industrial block (175 ha) and 5,000 neighbouring farmers who are divided into two cooperatives, COOPTHÉ and COOTHEVM.
Initially, Rwanda’s tea factories were state-owned, with eight of the ten factories belonging to the state. A tea authority, the OCIR-THE, was created in 1978 to manage these factories and plan and oversee the entire tea value chain. In 2011, OCIR-THE merged with the Rwanda Coffee Authority (OCIR CAFÉ) and Rwanda Horticulture Development authority (RHODA) to create the National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB).
Owing to some of the challenges that the Mulindi Tea Factory was experiencing, such as below-capacity production due to old machinery and mismanagement amidst the lack of a significant industrial plot, the Government of Rwanda embarked on privatization of the factory in 2003. The first attempt failed but efforts restarted in 2011, in line with the Government’s ambitious plans to revive and expand the tea sector.
Gicumbi district demographics
- Population density: One of the most densely populated districts with 480 people per square kilometer.
- Poverty rate: Single largest number of poor people in a district due to population size
- Employment rate: 76% of the population is directly employed in agriculture; and 95% of the population depends on agriculture.
 Office for Industrial Cultivation in Rwanda (Tea Department.)