February 28 2019 – Tian Nel
The 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda will always remain a dark and desperate time in the country’s history. Since then Rwanda has made rapid progress. Survivors and their communities have rebuilt their lives and many are looking to a future built on agriculture that goes back further in history than the genocide. Coffee. And not just any coffee, but specialty coffee.
Rwanda’s coffee history dates back to the 1930s when Belgian colonialists forced Rwandan farmers to plant an abundance of coffee trees. This ultimately created a 'low-quality / low-price' trap that damaged Rwanda’s reputation as a producer of good-quality coffee. The mainly subsistence farmers did not have access to the proper infrastructure necessary to nourish the plants or to wash and process the high volume of coffee. Of course, the Belgians and successive pre-genocide governments controlled important aspects of the coffee industry for political and financial gain, and this did not help either.
The current post-genocide government’s National Coffee Strategy has led to a rebirth in the coffee industry.
Smallholder farmers have once again been involved. Jobs have been created and communities work side-by-side to produce high-quality specialty coffees. Integral, historical elements such as the Nkora washing station have been reborn. Nkora is not only the first washing station to have been established in Rwanda but it is also the largest.
"At Kivu noir, we are proud to process our coffee here, where we are tied to the history of Rwandan coffee production."
The National Coffee Strategy lowered trade barriers and lifted restrictions on coffee farmers. And, because it became evident that the prices for specialty coffees remained higher and more stable than those for ordinary coffees, the strategy focused on the production of high-quality beans.
This did not mean that the farmers had to change the type of beans they grew but that they had to switch their focus to better growing practices, selective washing techniques and utilizing better infrastructure, which all contributed to improved quality.
Specialty coffee has now been processed here for over 15 years. This has led to higher incomes, which has allowed Rwandan coffee farmers to send their children to school, build new homes and to reinvest in their own plantations, all against the backdrop of Rwanda now being Africa’s cleanest & safest country.
The number of women involved in the industry is remarkable and reflects Rwanda’s ethos around gender balance.
Did you know that Rwanda has the highest participation of women in parliament compared to other countries? In this way, Rwanda’s long history with coffee has finally become profitable, sustainable and forward thinking.