1 January 2013

Rwanda: How Coffee Transformed the Lives of Huye Farmers

Huye — FOR MANY decades, Rwandans have been growing coffee but it was until the early 2000 that the Rwandan coffee won international accolades and demand on global markets.

One of the best known coffee growing cooperative is Abahuzamugambi ba Kawa ba Maraba, a cooperative which boasts of over 1400 members

Before the end of the millennium, coffee producers did not have the means to wash and prepare their coffee beans. This resulted into low quality and low prices on the international markets, thus keeping coffee farmers in a vicious cycle of poverty.

However, as years went by, farmers put heads together to find solutions to the problem. They resolved to work together to address the issue of coffee quality to boost their income consequently.

With the help of government, local and international organisations as well as research institutions, numerous coffee farmers' cooperatives were formed across the country.

One of the best known coffee growing cooperative is Abahuzamugambi ba Kawa ba Maraba, a cooperative which boasts of over 1400 members.

The cooperative is known for its high quality specialty coffee known globally under the same brand name as the area: Ikawa ya Maraba or Maraba coffee.

Maraba coffee is probably one of the most known varieties from Rwanda.

The coffee is grown on the high-altitude hills of Maraba, Huye district in the south of the country.

For the last ten years, Maraba coffee has managed to maintain its brand name and is sold around the globe.

Last week, the cooperative celebrated ten years, reflecting on its achievements and the way forward.

One of the key achievements the cooperative celebrated is that it managed to establish its brand around the world and won trophies for its quality and taste-like the Cup of Excellence it won in 2008, 2010 and 2011.

According to Theophile Biziyaremye, the cooperative's accountant, this was made possible by setting up of necessary infrastructure; including coffee washing stations which he says played an important role in maintaining the quality of their coffee.

Currently, the cooperative owns four coffee washing stations.

Farmers were also educated on the best practices and ways of improving the quality of their products, officials say.

"Over the last ten years, we have focused on extending our activities, setting up infrastructure, improving on the quality of our products and marketing them," Biziyaremye says.

And, the next step is to make sure farmers benefit more from their efforts.

"We will not be investing a lot in infrastructure as it has been in the past years. We will save a lot of money, that will directly benefit our members," Biziyaremye added.

Abahuzamugambi ba kawa ba Maraba started with only 70 members, but today it boasts of 1400 smallholder farmers.

And, over the ten years its assets grew from Rwf 70 000 to an estimated Rwf 250 million today.

The members strive to see that the quality of their products is maintained from the field until they are sold on market.

They plant the trees, weed the plantations and enrich soils to improve the quality of their yields. They also handpick coffee beans; sort them according to their quality before bringing them to washing stations where they are extracted and dried.

The beans are sold to various companies, especially in the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Another portion is sold on the local market.

Over the last ten years, the price of green coffee went from US$ 2.5 to US$ 6 per kilogram, officials say.

For the members of the cooperative, being part of the group has helped them to improve their livelihoods.

Innocent Twagirayezu, a farmer, says: "The more the quality improved, the more we sold the coffee at a good price."

And, that has boosted farmers' revenue streams, allowing them to meet their basic needs and that of their families.

"Since I joined the cooperative, I have been able to meet my needs, something which was hard in the past. I also manage to pay school fees for my children," Costasie Niyitegeka, another farmer, says.

And, ten years down the road, farmers under the cooperative are determined to remain together more than ever. Like their name Abahuzamugambi which means people with same mission, joining hands together is considered the best way to keep improving their produce both in quality and quantity.

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