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Rwanda, and our special relationships there

Rwanda, and our special relationships there

Innovative, progressive, passionate, resilient and community-minded, our producing partners in Rwanda constantly invest and experiment, in order to produce beautiful coffees that keep getting better.   

Nowhere are our relationships stronger or more meaningful and reciprocal than with our coffee partners in Rwanda. We’ve been working with this origin since we opened our doors in 2009, and we are passionate and avid supporters and promoters of Rwandan coffee.

A major reason for this is that we have been lucky enough to witness the ways in which coffee has completely transformed the lives of thousands of Rwandan people. Coffee has helped create jobs, develop skillsets and rebuild communities over the last two decades.

Our visits to Rwanda have helped us understand that the scars of the 1994 genocide run deep there. Every single person we meet in Rwanda has been profoundly affected by this devastating history. To understand this origin is to know that it is a country working valiantly to grow, build and flourish in the aftermath of the events of the mid-90s.

Coffee has played no small part in this rebuilding. In the wake of the genocide, coffee was identified as one of a handful of sectors that could revive the economy and help lift rural people out of poverty. When reform began in 2000, the Rwandan government, NGOs and the private sector all contributed support to the local coffee industry, focusing specifically on the production of specialty coffee. This involved the building and rebuilding of coffee farms and processing infrastructure, and the training and education of the people who process coffee and, increasingly, the people who grow it.

One of the key initiatives to support the production of higher quality specialty-grade coffee was the establishment of washing stations throughout Rwanda. These washing stations receive coffee cherry from farmers and then process the coffee for export. The vast majority of coffee in Rwanda is produced by 400,000 small-scale farmers who own less than a hectare of land each, or around 175 coffee trees, which grow alongside subsistence crops, such as maize and beans. The existence of washing stations means coffee producers are able to combine their harvests into quantities large enough for export. The stations also ensure that coffee is processed in a careful, consistent and controlled way, resulting in significant improvements in quality.

Nearly three decades after the genocide, Rwanda is very much moving forward. The resilience and general positivity of a population working hard to overcome its past and embrace what is wonderful about its present is awe-inspiring. As for the coffee industry, Rwanda is producing some truly exceptional coffees, with more and more high-quality coffees showing up on the cupping table every year.

The relative newness of the specialty coffee industry in Rwanda means that the people we work with there are enthusiastic, open-minded and eager to learn, pivot and experiment. We are blown away by their commitment to supporting their communities and improving coffee quality, and their willingness to innovate and invest in infrastructure.

The result of all this is beautiful coffees that improve every single year, and continue to defy our expectations. The coffees we buy from Rwanda are complex, sweet and interesting, with pretty florals, citric acidity and deep notes of dried fruit, black tea, plum jam and brown sugar. We absolutely love them!

 

Our partners in Rwanda

Every time we visit Rwanda, we are inspired by the warmth, hospitality, passion, determination and talent of our partners there. We have been lucky to work with the same people in Rwanda, year after year, and we deeply value and cherish these relationships.

Some of the coffees we buy are traceable back to the washing station where they were processed. Other coffees come from smaller groups of growers who work together to improve quality and process their coffees together in an effort to increase the prices their coffees fetch. We’re also lucky to work with some single producers in Rwanda, which is very rare, as most coffee farms there are too small for this. These industrious producers have managed to expand their farms and produce enough coffee to be processed as a separate, exportable lot.

Most of the Rwandan coffees we offer are sourced through two entities: Buf Coffee, a family-run business with privately owned washing stations, and Dukunde Kawa, a farmer-owned cooperative with three washing stations.

 

Buf Coffee

Buf Coffee Farm Details Market Lane Coffee

 

Buf Coffee was founded by Epiphanie Mukashyaka, an amazing woman of great strength, determination, talent and vision. After the devastating loss of her husband and a child in the Rwandan genocide, Epiphanie rebuilt her life, and that of her community, by turning her focus to specialty coffee. In the years that followed, she grew her coffee company from a few trees on a hillside to a modern coffee enterprise with multiple washing stations and a strong community focus. Epiphanie was the first woman to own a private coffee company and to establish a washing station in Rwanda. She told us, “I came up with the idea to build this, and nothing was going to stop me.” 

Today Epiphanie runs Buf Coffee alongside her son Sam Muhirwa, who shares the values his mother has consistently demonstrated: honesty, resilience, assertiveness and responsibility. Buf is recognised globally for its exceptional coffees and socially responsible practices, and it continues to support smallholder coffee farmers.

Epiphanie and Sam care deeply about the communities they work with. In addition to buying coffee from over 2200 producers across the country, they have distributed 500 cows to coffee-producing families in order to improve nutrition, and increase income streams through the sale of surplus milk. In 2019, Epiphanie and Sam established a kindergarten next to their Nyarusiza washing station to provide vital early education to the children of local farmers and washing station employees. For Sam and Epiphanie, this kindergarten is a testament to coffee’s potential to drive development in rural Rwanda – something they are committed to contributing to in a positive, substantial and long-lasting way.

Read more about Epiphanie and Sam.

Market Lane buys coffee from Buf's washing stations – including Remera and Nyarusiza. Over the last couple of years, we have also been able to buy coffees from smaller groups of producers who are supplying these washing stations  Twitezimbere at Remera and Kawanziza at Nyarusiza. These lots of coffee have more traceability, and we have found them to be of super high quality and very consistent.  

 

Dukunde Kawa Cooperative

Dukunde Kawa Farm Details Market Lane Coffee

Dukunde Kawa is a farmer-owned cooperative that was established in 2000. The name ‘Dukunde Kawa’ means ‘love coffee’ in Kinyarwanda (Rwanda’s official language). It was chosen to symbolise the power of coffee to improve the livelihood and quality of life of small-scale farming families in rural communities. Most of Dukunde Kawa’s members are smallholder producers who typically own less than a quarter of a hectare of land each. By selling their coffee to Dukunde Kawa, these farmers can process their cherries centrally and combine their harvests into quantities large enough for export. 

Dukunde Kawa is an incredibly progressive, agile and innovative cooperative, constantly investing in infrastructure in order to improve coffee quality, as well as the overall income of its members. The co-op’s farmers are provided agronomy training in the classroom as well as the field, and they are given access to fertilisers and organic pesticides. The cooperative is now making plans to establish a coffee school and vocational training centre for women, as well as for local youth.

The co-op also supports income generation for its members outside of the coffee harvest season. In recent years, they have built a dairy refrigeration and pasteurisation facility (enabling milk and dairy products to be on-sold in Kigali and command higher prices), and a community room, which is used by over 200 women for crucial social support and connection, and as a space to weave baskets to sell.  

Market Lane buys coffee from Dukunde Kawa's washing stations, including Mbilima and Nkara. We also buy coffee from Rambagira Kawa, a women’s group that supplies Ruli washing station, and we work with some single producers (who are also co-op members), including Andre Hakizimana and Marie Bedabasingwa. 

When we first visited Dukunde Kawa, then co-op president Anastase Minani told us that their goal was to be the very best cooperative in Rwanda. We think they are well on their way to achieving this goal.

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