Company founder Joe Wertheim was a well-known exporter of Kenyan and Rwandan teas before the Rwandan government invited him to build a tea factory in Kinihira, a remote section of the country, back in 1972. However, several obstacles needed to be addressed before a viable facility could be developed.
Initially, there was very little arable land available on the hill sides to grow tea, because the local population supported itself through subsistence farming. One possible solution was to use swamp land in the valleys that could be drained without impacting local food production. As a result, the government drained an experimental plot in the Cyohoha swamp and planted it with tea bushes. The success of that plot demonstrated that tea could be profitably grown in reclaimed swamp land.
Financing for the factory posed another hurdle. The Rwandan government had run out of funds after planting the experimental tea bushes in the Kiruri swamp. As a result, Mr. Wertheim worked with the government to secure financing for the SORWATHE factory from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC).
Given the remote location and lack of infrastructure, several challenges remained: roads needed to be built, fuel sources needed to be secured, and water and electricity needed to be brought to the factory site before operations could begin. These challenges were met by Mr. Wertheim with the assistance of the government of Rwanda. Construction of the facility began in 1975, with tea production commencing in 1978. Since 1978, tea production has steadily increased. Today, SORWATHE remains the largest single factory in the country, producing approximately 15% of Rwanda’s tea.
Consistency in quality and innovation have always been SORWATHE’s main business drivers. In addition, SORWATHE is the first tea factory in Rwanda to manufacture Orthodox and green tea. Its state-of-the-art facility is also the first to cultivate organic tea in the country. SORWATHE currently produces high quality green, black, and white teas for local and international markets.