Epiphanie Mukashyaka is an incredibly inspiring person. Her strength, determination, vision and talent have transformed thousands of lives in the Rwandan coffee community.
In 1994, Epiphanie tragically lost her husband and a child in the Rwandan genocide that claimed nearly a million lives. Grieving and widowed, she had to find a way to care for her seven surviving children, and rebuild their life. With limited money and support, Epiphanie turned to the coffee trees left behind by her husband to try to make a living as a farmer. In addition to harvesting and selling her own coffee cherries, Epiphanie used the small amount of capital she had to buy coffee cherries from other farmers, and sold them on the internal market. The years that followed were tough; prices were at an all-time low and many farmers abandoned coffee in favour of other crops.
In 2000, Epiphanie came across the Partnership to Enhance Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages (PEARL) initiative, a project that aimed to create better economic opportunities for farmers by helping establish a specialty coffee production industry in Rwanda. Through PEARL’s director Tim Schilling, Epiphanie learnt that she could gain better prices by improving the quality of her coffee.
With this knowledge, Epiphanie applied for a loan from the Rwandan Development Bank and, with that money, established a company called Buf (after the name of her local region at the time, Bufundo). Through PEARL, Epiphanie learnt how to improve coffee quality through more selective coffee picking, and more refined processing and sorting methods. She set about engaging and training local farmers and encouraged them to supply her with better quality coffees in exchange for higher prices. She then onsold the cherry to washing stations at premium prices.
In 2003, Epiphanie received a second loan to build a coffee washing station. “I came up with the idea to build this and nothing was going to stop me,” she says. She established Nyarusiza washing station and – after a number of years of impressive growth – she was able to open Remera washing station in 2007, and then Umurage and Umbumwe washing stations in subsequent years.
Over the last three decades, Epiphanie has worked tirelessly to rebuild and to create opportunities for her neighbours and coffee community – helping to bring electricity and water services to local towns, distributing cows as a source of dairy nutrition and extra income, building a kindergarten for the kids of farmers and washing station employees, and providing jobs and income to thousands of people. Buf Coffee is recognised as one of the leading sources of quality coffee in Rwanda, thanks to its precise and meticulous approach to selection and sourcing.
Today, Buf’s operations are managed by Epiphanie’s son, Sam Muhirwa, who displays as much care, determination and talent as she does. Epiphanie is still very involved in the business, however, particularly through her robust relationships with her community and its many coffee farmers, who admire and adore her – just as much as we do!