Nairobi — Former US president Bill Clinton has pledged to promote a new brand of coffee called Rwanda Famers.
Mr Clinton, who was in Kigali two weeks ago courtesy of the charity organisation called Clinton Hunter Development Initiative (CHDI), said his aim was to connect Rwandan farmers directly to retail markets through a brand they fully owned.
"I am here as part of my mission to garner support from donors to help more Rwandan coffee farmers find retail outlets in the United States, the Middle East and other consumer markets," Mr Clinton said.
He affirmed his committment to raise $100 million over 10 years to establish programmes that generate sustainable economic growth in Rwanda and Malawi .
By developing the "Rwanda Farmers" brand of coffee, some 8,700 rural coffee farmers will receive 100 per cent of the gross brand margin, Mr Clinton said, adding that CHDI has negotiated a licensing agreement with Scottish-based coffee roaster Matthew Algie in which the latter will pay a 16 per cent royalty to the farmers' trust for every sale made. CHDI also helped negotiate contracts with retailers.
The Matthew Algie company sells coffee, coffee-making machines, tea, and other products such as hot chocolate primarily in the UK and Ireland.
Mr Clinton added that the company has already bought 70 tonnes of the coffee, reportedly a third more than the Fair Trade price. The coffee brand is already stocked exclusively in supermarket chain Sainsbury.
OCIR Café, the coffee marketing and promotion institute in Kigali said that working with CHDI, participating Rwandan coffee farmers have been able to expand their production by 20 per cent and increase their revenue by 10 per cent over 2006.
Rwanda is reputed for its Blue Bourbon Coffee, which has a subtle acidity and a herbal, spicy complexity not typically found in the coffees of East Africa.
The new brand, Rwandan Farmers, was launched in June with the help of Mr Clinton and is now being sold in more than 800 retail outlets in Europe.
The Rwanda Farmers brand was developed by Rwandan farmers themselves and delivered with the pro bono support of several participants, including BMB Design, who worked to develop the brand image and e-Commera, who are delivering an online presence.
For more than a year, CHDI has worked with 6,500 coffee farmers to expand their access to financing, improve their production and processing capacity, facilitate international sales and develop the new coffee brand.
"Rwandan farmers grow great coffee and deserve all the credit. If they control their own production cycle here, then they can fundamentally change the economic prospects of this country," Mr Clinton said.
"Rwandan coffee is highly regarded by professional coffee tasters and judges but typically farmers just sell their coffee while they could make more profit if the coffee was roasted and processed here," he added.
Mr Clinton also visited coffee farmers who work at the Nyamwenda coffee washing station in Gisenyi.
He disclosed that he is partnering with philanthropist Sir Tom Hunter, a British businessman, to support two co-operatives which represent the 8,700 Rwandan coffee farmers.
The farmers work in an area which benefits from high altitude, ideal rainfall patterns and good volcanic soils. They use a "shade-grown" process in which other trees are grown around coffee bushes to protect the crop.
Rwandan coffee first came to prominence six years ago through the London roasters Jeremy Torz and Steven Macatonia. Their Union Hand-Roasted company was the first to highlight the possibilities of Rwandan coffee in the post-genocide era.