Long rows of palm trees, arranged flowers, incredibly clean streets – these are things I associate with Singapore or Switzerland, but there they were! The streets were so clean and green, I found myself wondering if there was even any dust to be found. I first came to Rwanda in 2013, looking for a place to settle down and start a company as a young female entrepreneur. Kigali was not only clean, it was incredibly safe. After a taxi driver told me it was safe to walk around at any time, I was so curious that I went for a run at 3:00 a.m. I was amazed! I was also convinced Kigali was a place I could make my home.
On my second trip, I visited the National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB), where all the coffee is examined and approved before export. I was impressed by the strong and efficient system it has built. The NAEB systematically keeps each examined sample for a year in case anything goes wrong during export.
Coffee was first introduced to Rwanda by German missionaries in 1904 in Mibirizi areas. After the Rwandan tragedy of 1994, the global community came together to support the country in its recovery. With the support of USAID-Finance, development projects such as the Partnership for Enhancing Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages (PEARL) and the Sustainable Partnerships to Enhance Rural Enterprises and Agricultural Development (SPREAD) were launched. These were aimed at developing Rwanda via the specialty coffee industry. Indeed, Rwanda has great potential for quality and consistent production thanks to the determination of its people to bring development to their country through the production of excellent specialty coffees.
The Rwandan government has been very supportive of this initiative, encouraging the local producers to move from a semi-washed process to the production of the finest specialty coffees. Since 2001, through various aid projects, the washing process is now widespread across the country. Rwanda now has more than 229 coffee washing stations (CWS) producing high-quality coffee. The NAEB introduced a zone system which allows specific washing stations to work in specific areas, ensuring a fair and efficient allocation of the farmers to their closest CWS. Farmers now bring their coffees to a dedicated washing station. Before the implementation of such a system, farmers would bring their coffee to any CWS that would pay them the highest amount for their coffee. The new zone system, however, encourages CWS to invest in the long term with farmers to produce excellent coffee.
As the Rwandan specialty coffee sector continues to grow, local roasting companies are emerging, aimed at producing and exporting roasted coffee. Gorilla’s Coffee and Misozi Coffee are two such companies. There are also new roaster/retailer projects focused on distribution via the online selling platform Alibaba, supported by the Rwandan and Chinese governments.
Specialty coffee is one of the best ambassadors of the thousand hills of beautiful Rwanda, yes – but it also connects people and creates jobs and quality-oriented value for the nation. It is an incredible economic development vector, bringing worldwide investors to the country. I am so excited to be in Rwanda, enjoying breathtaking views and being a part of the country’s development through coffee.
INYOUNG ANNA KIM, CEO of LetSequoia, is a social entrepreneur focused on the development and empowerment of local populations in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo through the creation of economic activities.
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