It’s nice to be able to share some exciting (good) news this morning. Nearly three weeks after a fire nearly devastated our company, a project that we’ve been working on for over two years is about to take off. The project, a coordinated effort to incentivize the 2,000 plus farmers of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative in Rwanda to plant trees, has officially received 30,000 Euros in funding from the Dutch charity Progreso. The initial stages will begin shortly.
Why does it matter that Rwandan coffee farmers plant trees?
For a number of reasons, obviously. Shade trees are an integral part of a healthy coffee farm, and provide valuable ecosystem services that are well known and documented. Additionally they provide habitat for wildlife. A well forested coffee farm is simultaneously a source of income for the farmer, and a healthy part of the ecosystem, a “two birds with one stone” reality that’s been behind our efforts for almost two decades now to push for the spread of shade grown, organic coffee cultivation.
But there’s another reason—climate change—that brings the need for shade and ecological diversity into sharper focus. With global temperatures rising, and weather patterns becoming more and more erratic, coffee farms (and farmers everywhere) can expect to see longer dry periods, more intense wet periods, and less regular seasonal patterns. These changes will be especially extreme in the tropics. As a result, the the occurrence and severity of droughts will increase, powerful concentrations of rainfall will erode soils, and the very quality of coffee—dependent on cool night temperatures to enable slow fruit ripening, could likely diminish overtime.
Trees, though not a panacea, offer the farmers a fighting chance. Their shade, leaf litter and roots can help soil retain moisture and stability. They trap humidity under their canopy, and can reduce day and night temperatures which can maintain the necessary cool temperatures even as overall temperatures increase. In short, trees may save the ecosystem, and save the farmers livelihoods.
“The cooperative is important for us because I have three children in secondary school—they are orphans from the genocide. We are farmers, and coffee is the crop that we use to raise the money for school tuition.”
Augustine Rebagisha, Dukunde Kawa Cooperative, Rwanda
Please read on for more information, directly from the recently approved project proposal.
A majority of the 1,810 family farmers of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative have never driven a car. They mostly live without electricity and consume food that is grown within 100 miles. They farm small plots of land without the use of tractors or other motorized machinery. While these farmers bear little responsibility for the causes of climate change, they are among those who will be most impacted by its consequences.
By the time a youth in the cooperative’s community is 25, they will likely see average rainfall in the wet season (December-February) increase by 12%. By the time they are 50, it is likely that rainfall during the wet season will increase by 25%. Conversely, when they are 25, they will likely see rainfall in the dry season (June-August) decrease by 8%, and by the time they are 50 a likely decrease by 15%. These changes in rainfall are likely to be coupled with more intensified extreme weather (ie rains are likely to be concentrated in shorter, more intense storms) and are likely to cause increased flooding and erosion, a loss of surface soils water holding capacity by 25-75%, a high likelihood of full or partial crop loss due to drought and flooding, and a sum impact that threatens to destroy individual farmers’ livelihoods and the community’s future.
Coupled with population growth these anticipated changes dramatically underline the need for adaptation plans that integrate the ecological, social, and economic needs of the Musasa community. These anticipated impacts of climate change point to the need for environmental restoration to enhance local ecosystems’ natural resiliency, investment in community led resource managment, and cooperative led efforts for a proactive engagement with the anticipated threats to the farmers, their livelihoods, food security, and their children’s future.
To secure the long-term sustainability of farming in the Musasa region, with a focus on sustaining the production of coffee as value-added cash crop; to improve coffee farmers’ productivity and on-farm biodiversity; to establish shade tree cover on coffee farms; to develop alternate food and cash crops; to protect watersheds and reforest marginalized land; to continue the development of quality of life in conjunction with development of ecosystem health and overall environmental sustainability.
On Individual Farms
Increase and sustain productivity of coffee farms and improve nutrition and income stream through the following strategies:
-Establish shade cover on all member farms and increase soil fertility trough planting of leguminous trees and coffer crop, high mulching trees and increased access to and use livestock manure.
-Increase access to livestock for production of organic manure/fertilizer
-Identify symbiotic food and vegetable crops and a public education campaign to increase farmers food self-sufficiency, mitigate increased food cost and improve nutrition /quality of life.
-Identify alternate cash crops , market opportunities for value-added production , and sales avenues to diversify farmer’s incomes.
Manage and protect community watersheds, enhance protection of headwaters, and increase water retention and aquifer storage through the following strategies:
-Create public education campaign to increase community awareness of environmental and resource management issues, climate change , and the cooperatives leadership in addressing the community’s economic and environmental challenges.
-Work with local teachers and schools to create a youth-centered outreach and education program.
-Create an environmental literacy campaign for cooperative members and build collective sense of ownership of the community’s ecosystem.
-Map watersheds and create a public education campaign around awareness of watershed geography and corresponding stakeholders.
-Identify headwaters and strategies to protect and enhance soil absorption and erosion control.
-Identify soil absorption and erosion control strategies for down –watersheds areas , including reforestation ,building of swales and drainage channels , and planting of erosion controlling food and fodder crops.
-Nurture a long-term vision for community’s continued economic development and ecosystem management and protection.
Strategy and Execution
The execution of this project will be under the responsibility of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative, which will plan for different activities and make a follow-up and necessary evaluations of the project. The project is separated into an initial three-year period followed by a 2-year extension. At the end of 3 years period The Cooperative will make a final evaluation and report to be addressed to funders. Pending good execution and management of the project funds and strategies, The Cooperative hopes to establish a solid basis of understanding implemented in its members and funders for the continuation of the project’s second-term goals and strategies.
The project’s first phase will focus on the following five steps:
1.Public education and general sensitization focused on climate change and its likely impacts
In this first step, the cooperative leadership will be responsible for identifying and training 10 members representing 10 area villages/zones the intention and goals of this project. These 10 members will be responsible for leading public education campaign in their respective villages/zones. The cooperative will make follow-up visits in each village/zone to monitor transmission and reinforce message, intention, and goals.
As the environmental problem is and climate change is not are not a specific problem for The Cooperative’s members only, it will be necessary to cooperative members and non-members in this step of the project. The Cooperative’s Ruli and Coko Station agronomists will be asked to join the training team, and will be responsible for accompanying trainers and offering additional support.
The Cooperative will work with local schools to enlist local primary and secondary school-age youth. The Cooperative has identified that youth are better able than their parents to understand the problems of deforestation, erosion, and climate change. Youth will play certainly a fundamental role in their parent’s education.
2.Establishment of cooperative-operated seedling nurseries
This second step will create shade cover trees nurseries from which the members will be able to obtain seedlings of strategically-selected tree varieties for intercropping in their coffee plantations. Trees will be selected for their best mix of the following attributes: fast growing, high-mulching, low-water usage, fruit-bearing, and nitrogen-fixing. A central seedling nursery will be established at each washing station under the management of The Cooperative.
See Appendix A for a draft list of best practices.
3.Shade cover tree planting and on-farm erosion control
Timed to coincide with the conclusion of the initial sensitization and training phases, the distribution of tree seedlings from the three cooperative-run nurseries will enable an initial round of on-farm tree planting. Tree planting guidelines will be established by The Cooperative, and best practices will be defined and clearly shared with farmers using an enumerated list of criteria established by The Cooperative. Later, this list will be used to evaluate model farms (see step 4 below).
In addition to model best-practices for on-farm tree planting, best practices for swale construction will be established and articulated. Farmers will be simultaneously encouraged to reforest their farms, establish shade canopy, increase natural mulching, and protect topsoil through erosion control.
4. Evaluation of members participation in the project and distribution of cows
Increasing access to organic manure is a critical to the maintenance of existing farm productivity through enhancement of soil health and fertility. To accomplish this goal and to create an incentive-based project, The Cooperative is seeking funding for 25 cows which will be offered as rewards to the 25 farmers with the highest scores on the pre-established evaluation criteria. Evaluation will be conducted by a panel of 3 representatives from the democratically elected Board of Directors. These farmers will be responsible for breeding these cattle as soon as possible, and the first calf will be made available to the next 25-best performing farmers in a second round, followed by continuing rounds of breeding and calf-sharing.
5.Project evaluation and Final report
The project has to be executed for three years according to the action plan presented by The Cooperative. After the three years period , the cooperative will execute the first evaluation for the first part of the project based on the successful completion of steps 1-4.
The second 2-year phase of the project will focus on community-wide reforestation and watershed protection efforts. It is expected that the first three year phase will mobilize public will and support for environmental restoration, as well as the need for such restoration in the face of climate change. A survey mapping out watershed health, strengths and weakness will be conducted, and a community and government resources will be mobilized to reforest marginalized ridgelines, increase absorption of headwater surface soils, and prevent erosion caused by heavy rains.
- Map watersheds and identify strengths, weaknesses, and a prioritized list of interventions.
The Cooperative will lead a watershed mapping project led by the full-time agronomists with the assistance of a contracted third-party hydrologist. The mapping will seek to identify current watershed strengths which will be articulated, and current watershed weaknesses, for which interventions will be proposed. Because the national government owns and closely regulates use of ridge-top lands, local ministry officials will need to be brought in as partners in the mapping and restoration process.
- Support targeted interventions to reduce erosion and increase soil absorption and retention of water to protect and replentish local aquifer and river systems.
The Cooperative will lead a community-driven initiative to strengthen the upstream ecology and hydrology. Stakeholders will undertake projects to reforest marginalized lands with a focus on tree selection for maximum soil retention/erosion control, grass and earth swales will be built to protect against erosion, as well as the planting, as possible, of erosion-controlling food and animal fodder crops.
- Nurture a long-term vision for community’s continued economic development and ecosystem management and protection.
The Cooperative will work towards establishing a community-wide shared commitment to environmental sustainability. Youth-based education campaigns will continue through local school systems. Cooperative and community members will be encouraged to contribute their monthly Umuganda (obligatory monthly day of community service) to the care and restoration of the community’s ecology.
 IPCC A1B Scenario
 Dunne & Wilmott, 1996
On Monday, July 5th at 9:15 pm we received a call about a fire at our building. Fire fighters were on the scene shortly after containing the blaze. It was not a small fire; the crews worked diligently until 3:00 am trying to put it out and used nearly one million gallons of water.
The Thanksgiving team arrived at the building on Tuesday morning to find it still smoldering. The smell of propane, and burnt plastic and charred wood filled the damp coastal air. It was a heartbreaking scene. But the calls were flooding in; our community extended every manner of support from office space to radio time to baked goods and lots of kind words and condolences. The question for us as we surveyed the scene was not whether this was the end of the business but rather, what would our next chapter of business look like?
After assessing the damage, our spirits were lifted when we realized that the core assets were in tact. Our warehouse that stored all of our green coffee had not been damaged and our antique roaster was also spared. We set to work to salvage all existing inventory and resurrect operations out of our warehouse next door to the burned area. By Wednesday afternoon we were getting our first orders out the door, thanks to the very accommodating folks at UPS. And by Friday we received two truckloads of fresh roasted coffee that we had contracted out to three Bay Area roasters who had extended offers of support.
The media was quick to note that the cause of the fire was declared arson. The investigators have been doing a phenomenal job and the case is still under investigation. We are asking that anyone with any information about the cause of the fire call the Mendocino County Sheriff’s tip line at 707-467-9159. We are leaving this in their very capable hands and focusing our energy on moving the business forward.
We have been truly overwhelmed by the community’s response to this event. We cannot begin to give enough thanks to the fire crews, investigators, local businesses and community members who reached out to us and made us feel loved and supported.
While it feels strange to work in the shadow of our burned out former home, there is much to be thankful for. There were a few moments last week when I stopped and took a step back to look around. Our team was working so hard to keep things moving forward, with their sights set on making this business stronger than ever. People were doing things they’d never done before, taking on roles that were new to them, and we were all working together to develop impromptu systems that would keep us afloat. We weren’t talking about it, but our hearts were in the same place and you could feel it.
We’ve been around for nearly 40 years. The road has been long and winding and not always smooth. This was certainly a sobering experience but it showed us how much we are loved and what a strong place we hold in both our local community as well the specialty coffee community.
The rebuilding process is already underway and many of us are excited about new possibilities in a new space. We are filling orders more or less on schedule, though or product offerings at this time are limited. We continue to get asked what people can do to help and at this time there is really only one thing, keep buying our coffee. And be patient with us. If a coffee you know and love isn’t available right now, try something else. You may discover a new coffee to love. Our online retail business has been delayed but this week we will begin to fill orders. In some cases you may get the exact coffee you ordered in a package that looks familiar. In other cases, we may fill your order with a similar coffee in a logoed but unlabeled bag. Again, we really appreciate your patience.
Thank you for your continued support. If you don’t already follow us on Facebook, please become a fan so we can keep you in the loop about rebuilding (and I’ll post an album with recent pictures of our first week post-fire). Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/90pIjv
It’s been a long week and it’s a long road ahead but we know this too shall pass…
As the ashes settle and the dust clears, we remain Thanksgiving Coffee Company “Not Just a Cup, But a Just Cup.”
This business requires patience. From the time we taste a coffee sample to the time that coffee arrives at our door ready to be roasted can take several months. It’s especially difficult to be patient when the samples are really really really good.
This past Thursday was a big day for us here at Thanksgiving Coffee Company. Just after 8:00am a truck backed up to our loading dock full of sacks of new crop Nicaraguan coffee. These coffees are particularly special for us because our relationships in Nicaragua go back so many years. We don’t just buy from one cooperative there, we buy from three: Solidaridad de Aranjuez (our Joya de Aranjuez coffees), SOPPEXCCA (our Flor de Jinotega), PRODOCOOP (Dipilto coffee which serves as a backbone to many of our favorite blends and will be featured this year as a special single origin). We also buy from one small scale family farm owned by the Corrales family (Byron’s Maracaturra – a perennial favorite). The arrival of these coffees is thrilling because coffee, like many crops, is seasonal. We buy limited quantities of the highest quality each year and when these coffees run out, we have to wait for the next year’s harvest to arrive. We were all eagerly anticipating this delivery; especially our roasting team who was chomping at the bit to get these beans fired up and out the door to our loyal customers who, like us, know that the exceptional quality, complexity, and character of these distinct coffees are worth waiting for.
Towards the end of July, we’ll be celebrating the arrival of these Nicaraguan coffees as well as the balance of our Northern Hemisphere coffees (like Musasa, Rwanda) that are also recent arrivals to our dock. Keep an eye out for your invitation to party with us here at the warehouse.
Here are some pictures of how the day went: the arrival, unloading, sample roasting, staff cupping, and finally the beginning of production roasts.
Some of you may have noticed that a few of our all-time favorite coffees have been made unavailable recently, namely Byron’s Maracaturra and Sidama Natural, Ethiopia. Indeed, we have roasted our last pounds of Byron’s, and in the case of our jammy wonderkid from Ethiopia, we’re tightening the belt and saving the last dozen or so bags for our espresso blends.
The bad news: you can’t get this great coffee right now.
The good news: these are great coffees (at least in our minds!) and they are rare, limited, and super special. These aren’t the kinds of coffees you can just order up from a broker, no, you’ve got to slog a lot of miles (and or a lot of frequent flier miles as the case may be) to find coffees of this caliber, and of course, the farmers who grow them. And though we’re out right now, new crop coffees are en route and should be here soon.
In the case of Byron’s Maracaturra, the 2009/2010 crop is on the water and should be here in our warehouse in the next few weeks. This year’s crop is more fruit-forward than ever, still with a delicate jasmine/darjeeling complexity. As for the new crop Sidama Natural, it’s a big fruit bomb again this year. We’re stoked on the pre-shipment sample and looking forward to the coffee’s arrival. It’s due to ship from Ethiopia next week, and we should see its arrival sometime in late July/early August.
We hope you’re enjoying the slightly wild ride of great coffee. Like a lot of the finest crafted foods in the world, there’s no mass-produced version. We always try to buy as much as we can, but in the case of some of the most unique coffees in our roster, there’s only so much of the great stuff out there. Please let us know if we’ve left you in the lurch…we’ve got a lot of other great coffee in stock at the moment, and we’d be happy to help you find a great coffee to hold you over until the arrival of your favorites.
It was our third day on the road and we were feeling good. The simple diet of rice, beans, eggs, chicken and beef, plus mangoes and papayas was beginning to provide native energy. We were not in conflict with the food we were eating, we were in harmony with it. And we all had lots of sleep last night. So after breakfast we took a stroll in the central square where these photos were taken. Just a slice of life in a dreamy coffee town in the most important coffee growing region in Nicaragua and the home of SOPPEXCCA, a small scale producer cooperative we have been purchasing coffee from for over a decade. Flor de Jinotega: sweet, caramelly with cashew notes in the finish – just great stuff. A really progressive cooperative also. Here are six photos that will tell you what you need to know about Jinotega (if you examine them closely)…
A garbage can on a street corner. Could be Manhattan or your home town, lots of plastic… because it is the can for recycling plastic! They are soooo hip. Look at how attractive, festive, these cans look. Makes you want to throw away things just to see if music comes out .
This fruit stand was selling mangoes that tasted like sorbet (mango sorbet) for five cents each. The cart was “hecho a mano” (handmade) the tire is illegal and there is no running water or ice, but the health department is not shutting down the economy today. It is known that about 80% of the world’s commerce is “unofficial” and unreported. It is a problem worth many more words as the implications of not being able to get credit go way beyond mortgages and car loans.
This church was and is magnificent. I’m not Catholic, but it felt Holy in there just the same.
And the revolution shall not be forgotten. A monument is on the rise and it will overlook the town square for the next 100 years.
You can tell, the mood was up. Left to right Ben, Jenais, Nick, and Jody. And that’s how we started our day.
About a week ago I got an email from my friend Shayna Harris, introducing her new blog and a really exciting adventure she was getting ready to embark upon. I know Shayna from her time leading Oxfam America’s grassroots fair trade movement building campaign. There, Shayna spearheaded a dynamic and inspired movement that I believe significantly shaped the public’s awareness of fair trade and catalyzed the strong growth we’ve seen year after year in sales and market growth.
Well now Shayna’s in Brazil with a group of her classmates from MIT’s Sloan MBA program.
What is Shayna doing in Brazil with a bunch of the (soon) to be most qualified MBA’s in the world?
This spring, a group of MIT Sloan students will investigate the challenges of rural development in the emerging markets of Brazil and India and explore how innovation can address some of the world’s most pressing issues regarding food security, climate change mitigation, and rural livelihoods. The students will meet with for-profit companies in major financial centers and with family farmers in rural regions. They will also look at examples of top-down and bottom-up social innovation, all with the aim of comparing notes on what is happening in each of these growing markets.
Here you’ll learn of the value of these trips from the travelers, while they’re traveling; how they face challenges to their thinking and develop new approaches. Follow along and get a glimpse of the kind of hands-on intellectual adventures that make the MIT Sloan experience extraordinary.
What’s exciting to me is that this trip will expose tomorrow’s business leaders to the realities that farmers (especially small-scale family farmers) face, and also the exciting possibilities that exist for creating new and creative market structures that bring them and their higher quality, more sustainably produced food to consumers.
The challenges facing our partners—farmers in Brazil, and farmers around the world—is how to diversify their production and create lasting and profitable market linkages. In many cases, coffee becomes the last option on the table after farmers have lost their markets for grains, fruits, and vegetables. The challenge of the future will be to continue to develop fair trade models for export crops (like coffee) that add value and shorten the supply chain, but also the growth and development of local fair trade models that link these same farmers with markets for a diversity of crops and products. As they say, it’s not good to have all your eggs in one basket.
Kudos to Shayna and her program for putting together this great project. It’s good news that one of the leading business schools in the world is putting aside the coats and ties and getting into something a little more comfortable for a trip into the world where healthy topsoil matters as much as mergers and where a simple meal in a farmer’s home brings as much joy as a fancy dinner out on the town.
Check out the MIT Sloan Brazil Blog
When our party of seven arrived at the restaurant in Matagalpa for lunch on our first day in Nicaragua two weeks ago, there was Ernesto, sitting under a tree, waiting for us. He was about 30 pounds heavier then the young man I had last seen nine years ago. He is married now to his college sweetheart; they have a 10 month old baby girl, Katlynn. Ernesto traveled with us for two days, ending up on Wednesday night in Jinotega where the group was bedding down. Our hotel was just one block from where his wife was living with her parents and the baby. His job in Chinandega allowed him to see them only once every 15 days, being a three hour bus ride away and earning a salary too meagre for them to live together. Holy cow! What a painful way to be in love. But as fate would have it, I was looking for a Nicaraguan Blogger to send us reports on life in Nicaragua as seen from a Nicaraguan’s perspective. Ernesto and I struck up a deal that enabled his wife and baby to move to Chinandega to live together for the first time under the same roof. At breakfast the following morning, we all met his wife and baby. So beautiful! When I asked him what he was going to do with the rest of his day, he said, “We are packing. The bus leaves in two hours, and we will be on it together.”
So here is Ernesto’s first Blog entry. We can expect many more.
– Paul Katzeff
Hello everybody, my name is Ernesto Somarriba, I’m 34 years old, I’m Nicaraguan and of course I do live here in Nicaragua in a place named Chinandega.
Now I want to tell you my experience with the cupping labs for small coffee farmer. In 1998, I was in my third year of agriculture engineering at UNA (Universidad Nacional Agraria) in Managua. I was young at that moment without experience, at the same time I was working for a lodging house in Managua, because I have to eat and to have a place to sleep during the time I was studying engineering. This house was visited by pleople from The United States and Canada, and of course they spoke English, so I decided to learn English, I said, if I have some problems with the language, I can ask the visitors for help. I was studying English very hard, I spent about 3 or 4 hours a day.
In 2000, I received a phone call from UNAG (Union Nacinal de Agricultores y Ganaderos). The caller was Byron Corrales. He said, “there is a delegation from the United States coming this evening and we need a translator for tomorrow.” I told him that I never did that job before, but he said, “Do you want to come or not? ” I said, “Yes, I will do it, give me the address of the hotel that I have to be at and the hour.”
The next morning I went to the hotel, and then arrived Byron Corrales. I met him personally and he said, “there is one person that needs someone to help with the translation. He is a coffee buyer, his name is Paul Katzeff, and you have to do the best you can.” And I guess I did, well I think so, because they looked for me again the next time Paul came to Nicaragua, but this time I was with Paul, Byron, and the technicians. We went to Palacaguina,Yali, Jinotega, Esteli, Matagalpa, and Arajuez, where they were planning the best way to build the cupping labs. I was translating for them. They got agreement from the coffee farmers and cooperative leaders about the best construction styles for the cupping labs, and they started building them. While they were building (2000-2001) I finished my engineering degree, I got off of the project and I stated working in other things.
Nine years later I got an invitation from Paul Katzeff, to go back to see the cupping labs, and now you can see that it is a job well done. These labs work very well and the farmers take advantage of it. They are able to assess how good their coffee is, and because of that, they can improve the quality and get better prices. This means that they have better life conditions for their families because the cupping labs are useful. Now I feel proud of it because I helped in some way.
For some reason in this moment I’m working as an English teacher in a high school here in Chinandega, I have been doing this for 5 years, but in the future I have a good story to tell to my grandchildren.
More next week….
Just back from a “buying trip” to Nicaragua. It has been four years since I was last there. The farmers reminded me of that, much to my surprise. I was surprised by many things this time. How so much has changed at the Coffee Cooperatives, and how so little has changed in the market places we visited in each city we entered. Our trip took us from Managua North, to the mountains. Matagalpa first , then Jinotega and Estili on nights three and four. Then back to Managua, the capitol city and the flight home.
We tasted and selected some really fine coffees. There were seven of us on the trip. We travelled in two Toyota pick ups (not on the recall list) so the musical chairs of deciding who to travel with got us all in sync.
The biggest change I noticed was the growth and progress of the coffee cooperatives themselves. In the four years since my last visit , their capacity to handle giant amounts of coffee grew exponentially. They all acquired more land to dry coffee and had built new warehouses, coffee receiving stations, and office space. I will get into that in tomorrows blog.
What did not change were the local peoples markets. That is what was fascinating to me. Where the local urban “Poor” spend their money , and how the merchants create their shops, and who they sell to and at what prices is worth taking a look at. First off, there are two economies, the dollar economy with it’s imported electronics , cars, boom boxes and cameras that sell at the same prices as you would expect in the USA, and the Cordoba economy based on their local currency where a pound of rice is 8 cords, or .40 cents U.S. The tortillas these ladies were pounding out were 20 for 10 cords.(2.5 cents each).
It was 10 am when I took these pictures at the Managua Central Market, a 5 acre indoor open air market with a thousand seller stalls selling everything from locally made shoes, pottery, household wares and food. It was a market you could get lost in. The ultimate mall.
Feast your eyes on these three pictures. They are rich in culture, color and the human spirit. More tomorrow.
There is much to see in this simple picture. I like “reading” this kind of quiet photograph. If I were to title this simple scene I would consider Going to School or Paradise Found. But there is no running water or electricity here. No wooden floor covered with a Moroccan throw rug. The boy is not even wearing shoes. So what are we looking at?
In the foreground on the right lies what looks like a pile of dirt or garbage swept into a pile, however, it is a pile of dung collected for fuel to cook over. Behind it lies a stack of wood, not your basic split cord wood European style, cut into 18 inch lengths, but smaller branches, indicating there is not much wood around any more and that the people of this region are living with real scarcity.
There is, behind the palm frond roof of the traditional home, two native trees of significant size, remnants of what was once a magnificent forest. Their size shows what the land could support. That these two trees still remain, speaks to the nature of the people who live inside the house. I would bet they cherish, care for and respect that ancient tree.
Behind the boy are some pretty large coffee trees with a wooden platform structure that is probably used to pick the upper branches. Or it could be some sort of a well structure. What ever it is, it is something thought out and man made and an asset of some sort. And behind and in between the trees are the large broad shade trees of the banana plant that protect the delicate leaves of the coffee trees beneath and provide the fresh fruit for the family.
You can see the rolling hills in the background and by the way the landscape disappears downward behind the house, we can feel that this family chose to live at the top of their land, the spot with the view, a decision made very much like any family anywhere in the world would make when selecting a homesite.
However, with the land destabilized by the removal of the trees, this family might have opted for the ridge to be safe from mudslides during the rainy season.
There is more to this picture but to unlock more, a better-trained eye then mine is required. It is five years since I stood at this spot. I wonder if that young boy is still in school and what life holds in store for him.
By some estimates over 70 percent of fieldwork and coffee harvesting is done by women. But when it comes to ownership of land or the harvested, marketable coffee, those numbers drop to below 20 percent. Looking at these numbers it would not be an exaggeration to say that women make the coffee trade possible, and it would also be hard not to conclude that deep rooted structures of patriarchy and male-dominance are essentially stealing from women.
The women of COCAGI Cooperative, southwestern Rwanda.
Those numbers may be a bit different in Rwanda, where many women were widowed by the genocide. Because of that experience, and in part due to the impressive egalitarian nature of Paul Kagame’s national government (highest percentage of women elected officials in the world at nearly 50 percent), women play a relatively more prominent role in Rwanda’s coffee cooperatives and farming communities.
That’s the backdrop to an exciting two-day tour of three cooperatives spread throughout Rwanda who’ve created women’s associations inside the larger cooperative—essentially a cooperative within a cooperative. I had the lucky chance to tag along with Christine Condo, TransfairUSA’s Global Producer Service project manager in Rwanda, and her colleague Ben Schmerler from the Oakland, California office. Through the two days we met with three groups and heard their stories, visions, and questions.
The view from Abakundekawa, northern Rwanda.
And in-between I got to contribute to Christine and Ben’s brainstorming around the development of an autonomous Rwanda-led NGO focused on further developing these and other women’s associations inside the country’s network of cooperatives. The idea is taking shape, with development of the structure, funding, and operations over the next year, all to be launched by the first day of 2011. The organization’s work will be tailored to the specific needs and visions of each woman’s association, but the central goals of income diversification, education, health, and microfinance will undoubtedly thread throughout the diverse project portfolio. I’m honored to be a part of the process, and looking forward to bringing Thanksgiving Coffee Company’s history, experience, network, and support to this project. With Christine’s leadership I’m absolutely sure that we’re in store for some impressive results. Ben and I joke (more than half seriously) about visiting Christine at the presidential residence once she gets elected…
Xaverine Nyerabare, Abakundekawa Cooperative.
Until then, and until I have a chance to share more of this exciting development with you here’s a quote from Xaverine Nyerabare that pretty much sums it up.
“You should be our ambassador. Women from here have the dream of expanding our farms. We live far from our washing station, it’s a long walk from our farms. If we had financing we could build one closer to our homes, increase our profits and improve our quality.”
Here’s to the women of Rwanda, and the hard work they do every day to build better tomorrows.