Enriching Rwandan smallholder farmers as export markets expand

Faustini a father of six is a coffee farmer in Rwanda. He has been growing coffee for 20 years. He started with 200 trees he inherited from his father who was a traditional coffee smallholder. In 2005, at a time when a coffee-drinking culture was rapidly expanding across the globe, the Musassa Coffee Co-operative was formed in Ruli District – located in Rwanda’s verdant hills, a slow and steep two-hour drive from Kigali. The establishment of the cooperative represented a promise of access to markets and this encouraged Faustine to take coffee growing more seriously. He increased his trees to 1700 and over time hired extra help of 5 workers.

Musassa Coffee Co-operative represents 2,000 smallholder coffee farmers, 60% of them women. The farmers take their beans to designated collection points in the district from where they are delivered to the washing station, for washing, drying and grading. Almost all Rwandan coffee is exported in the green (unroasted) state because the buyers prefer to roast it themselves, sometimes blending it with other coffee types from various origins.

“My life improved very well,” he says, “before we had so many problems related to production and management of coffee trees. The co-op came with solutions in the form of efficient supply chain and now we are making more money.”

Faustini has done well over the 11 years he has been part of the Musassa co-operative. While his father lived in a house made of mud, Faustini’s is brick and has electricity. His six children are in fulltime education and sometimes help on the farm when not in school.
Faustini’s new found prosperity may be proof that Rwanda’s plan to achieve middle-income status and a knowledge based economy, by 2020, is on track. Rwanda’s Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy sets out the roadmap, in which the private sector takes the driving seat, assisted by the government as it reduces constraints to the growth of investment. TradeMark Africa (TMA), working in Rwanda since 2011, supports Rwanda’s goals with expert advice and funding that facilitates trade, especially across borders.

As part of its export strategy Rwanda’s coffee sector has prioritised value addition activities such as roasting, grinding and packaging, launching the Rwandan Farmers Coffee Co-operative (RFCC) in March this year. With support from the National Agricultural Export Board and the Clinton Hunter Initiative, the RFCC invested in a state of the art processing machine that stores roasting ‘profiles’, ensuring consistent coffee in flavour, colour and texture.

In addition, the RFCC has created its own upmarket coffee brand – Gorilla’s Coffee – using coffee from farmers like Faustini who can meet specific criteria. Financially it makes sense in that a container of processed, packaged coffee is worth 12 times the cost of a container of green coffee. The next step is to find a market.

TMA is assisting with access to markets by seconding market linkages specialists who work with the Rwanda Development Board to match products with markets. Already they have found a niche market for Gorilla’s Coffee in Uganda, with a regular monthly order worth nearly US$2,000.

“Our sole aim is to retain as much value from the coffee chain as possible in Rwanda and for farmer coffee growers,” explains Eric Rukwaya the sales and marketing manager at RFCC.

Setting standards and increasing Rwanda’s export market are just some of TMA’s interventions in Rwanda. “Our interventions speak to each other,” says TMA Rwanda Country Director, Hannington Namara. “We need to make sure that the interventions we put in place have users. They’re the ones that will create the jobs, grow economies and reduce the trade deficit that countries in East Africa suffer to connect to the world.”

The teamwork involved in growing Rwanda’s economy – from the government to TMA, to the private sector, to the producers such as smallholder farmers – is vital to achieving Rwanda’s poverty reduction objectives. For Faustini it’s already showing results: as his yields and incomes increase so too does their drive to continue the process.

Faustini puts it in a nutshell: “I am proud of what I’m doing and am motivated to grow more coffee and care for what I have. I am proud to meet the market expectation, but also expect an improved coffee price per kilogram. Coffee is not just in my heart, it’s in my body. It’s my life.”