Buf mill in Rwanda.
The small land-locked country, neighbouring the motherland of coffee in East Africa is home to 400,000 coffee producers that have thrived in recent decades, producing unique and exceptional coffees. This is Rwanda, also known as the Land of a Thousand Hills.
Coffee was introduced to Rwanda by European colonists as a low-cost commodity in the 1930s. The small country maintains 75% of its land for agriculture – some of which is coffee. However, after the genocide in the late 1990s, coffee production halted as the country slowly began to recover. Coffee was the saving grace, bringing communities back into normalcy. USAID even build the first washing station in 2004 and Rwanda slowly began to recover.
Rwanda became the first African country to host a Cup of Excellence competition, and truly shines as a role model story for how coffee can be a force of positive change. Although this small country is only responsible for 0.2% of global coffee production, it is an important contributor and is highly valued throughout the world.
The coffee-producing lands are generally comprised of smallholder producers, with farms ranging in size from less than 1 hectare to 4 hectares. Coffee is the country’s 3rd most important commodity, responsible for 5.6% or $75.5 million of total exports in 2019.
Nearly 40% of the country lives in poverty, so it is vital producers are able to have a connection to international markets to maintain a sustainable livelihood. In order to ameliorate the impacts of the genocide and the impending poverty – numerous projects took flight and began providing funds to potential coffee producers. The PEARL project funded by USAID is one such project, whereby funds were distributed to the Rwandan government to be allocated to potential sites for washing station construction. Following suit, the SPREAD project additionally provided resources to Rwandan smallholder producers to lend them support in the rebuilding of their coffee farms.
Rwanda is one such origin Mercanta hopes to have on our offer lists throughout the world. We work with two wonderful cooperatives in Rwanda – Musasa and Buf – both of which have truly transformed the coffee industry within Rwanda.
Buf was started by a woman named Epiphanie, born in 1959 and widowed during the 1994 genocide. After rebuilding her family coffee farm, she obtained a loan from the Rwandan Development Bank in 2003 to construct the Remera washing station. This station is now made up of 40 woman-owned farms, belonging to the Mutegarugorikundakawa group, translating to mean “women love coffee.”
Today, Buf owns four washing stations: Remera, Nyarusiza, Ubumwe and Umurage with a fourth under construction, working with an astounding 7,000 smallholder producers throughout the Southern province of Rwanda.
Musasa, on the other hand, works with producers in the mountainous northwest lands of Rwanda with three functioning washing stations. The cooperative oversees nearly 2,148 smallholders, contributing cherry from their roughly 0.25-hectare piece of land. Similarly, the Musassa Dukunde Kawa cooperative exists thanks to the PEARL and SPREAD program providing producers and washing stations with resources to rebuild the Rwandan coffee sector.
Initiated in 2000, the Dukunde Kawa cooperative initially was comprised of 300 members. Today, the vast cooperative works with 1,193 members and collects cherry from over 3,000 producers within Musasa. The first washing station was constructed in 2004, igniting the journey towards working with producers and various stakeholders to improve income for the smallholders. Amongst these hardworking producers, farms are filled with coffee trees intermingled with a variety of shade trees such as Grevillea. These producers grow coffee on 0.25 hectares on average.
Climate change has begun to place struggles on coffee production in Musasa. Temperatures are gradually increasing, and rain is growing sparse in wet periods and more erratic in dry periods. This is also leading to a growth in pest and diseases throughout the coffee trees of Musasa with Coffee Leaf Rust infecting the waxy green leaves of coffee trees, and the Coffee Berry Borer causing detrimental harm to coffee cherries. However, in order to ameliorate these changes, the Dukunde cooperative is working on training producers on climate change adaptation, soil erosion prevention, and providing access to new varietals better adapted these changes.
The cooperative regularly works with 41 groups, led by representatives from each producing community. Monthly meetings ensue to ensure production is maintained and producers are well-represented within the cooperative. By 2015, the cooperative was running four washing stations and one dry mill. Looking towards the future, the Dukunde cooperative are working more closely with youths to generate more interest in coffee farming, whilst also providing barista trainings and constructing a roastery to teach youths about the different levels of the coffee supply chain.
We look forward to the future of Rwandan coffee and are happy to offer coffee from this region in the UK and EU warehouses with more soon to follow. Thank you to all of the hard work to our partners at origin who are creating a future for these coffee producers.