Dukunda Kawa—Early History and Sustainable Development

“A journey to Africa has been a far away dream; seeing the mountain gorillas quite unimaginable. Both opportunities presented themselves and moved me profoundly. Using coffee from Rwanda to raise funds for mountain gorilla preservation and to improve the quality of life for the people of Rwanda has become my highest priority.”

Joan Katzeff first visited Rwanda in 2003 as a guest of the United States Aid for International Development (USAID). There, along with a handful of coffee industry partners, Thanksgiving Coffee Company began a close partnership with the emerging Rwandan cooperative movement and the revival of Rwanda’s coffee industry. During that visit, Joan met with the Rwandan office of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGI) and forged a close connection with this remarkable organization that works to protect the last remaining mountain gorillas.

The Dukunde Kawa Cooperative formed in 2003 with help from the Rwandan government and the USAID-funded PEARL Project (Partnership to Enhance Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages). As a young cooperative representing over 2,000 Hutu and Tutsi farmers, Dukunde Kawa needed to quickly prove to its members that it could offer high prices, stability year after year, and leadership in the community on a variety of issues ranging from health to education. Since then we have worked with Dukunde Kawa on a variety of social, economic, and environmental projects aimed at improving the quality of the farmers’ coffee and strengthening the cooperative and the benefits it offers to its members.

Beginning in 2003, the USAID-funded PEARL and SPREAD (Sustaining Partnerships to enhance Rural Enterprise and Agribusiness Development) initiatives supported the development of strong business planning and management, and product quality control. Improvements in the quality of the Cooperative’s coffee year after year has ensured high prices to the farmers and a stable market. Between 2006 and 2007 the Cooperative built two small processing stations to expand their capacity and make it easier for outlying members to process their coffee. Construction was financed by earnings from coffee sales and collateralized in part by our future contracts. Early in 2008, the Cooperative hired Abraham Twilingiyamana, a local high school teacher, as their first university educated full-time general manager.

Rwanda Vision Trip

Co-founders Joan and Paul Katzeff, and Green Buyer Ben Corey-Moran first met Anastase Minani, President of Dukunde Kawa, in Nicaragua in early 2004. Minani was part of a 6-member delegation of Rwandan cooperative leaders visiting Nicaragua to study their cooperative model, and in particular, the way the cooperatives use coffee cupping laboratories to taste, evaluate, and refine the quality of their product. The establishment of those cupping labs traces its history to a project led by Paul Katzeff between 2000 and 2001, and is widely considered to be on of the most successful development projects in the coffee industry. During our time together, we were drawn to Minani, his welcoming smile, warm presence, and strong voice. It wasn’t until almost a year later that we tasted his cooperative’s coffee. And with grateful smiles we welcomed Minani—now a friend and a business partner—into our collaboration.

Bikes to Rwanda

In 2007, partnering with Bikes to Rwanda, we raised money for theconstruction of a repair shop for recently supplied cargo bicycles. Bikes to Rwanda, working closely with Ritchey Bicycles, designed and produced a custom cargo bike to help Rwandan farmers transport their coffee cherries—often weighing hundreds of pounds—from the farms to their cooperative’s central processing stations. Hundreds of bikes had been made available through a cooperative-run financing program, and the bike repair shop was the last step in ensuring the success and long-term sustainability of this project.

Trees for the Future

Partnering with Trees for the Future we are working to develop a long-range vision for reforestation and the strengthening of farm ecosystems to protect farmers from the looming impacts of climate change. The project aims to address the challenges of climate change and poverty by intercropping shade trees which will yield consumable or marketable food crops, while simultaneously enhancing the ecological adaptability, soil regeneration, and water retention of members’ farms.

Coffee in Rwanda traces its history to Belgian colonization, and the corresponding disruption of Rwandan society and restructuring of the economy and rural people’s lives that followed. In the late 1900s coffee was identified as a potential source of export earnings, and was quickly established—often by force—as the economic backbone of this mountainous land. Belgian law stipulated that farmers had to grow a certain amount of coffee on their farms, and to increase yields, farmers were penalized, at times violently, for growing anything but coffee on their small parcels of land. The legacy of this introduction continues to shape coffee cultivation, and the challenges facing farmers. Cooperatives like Dukunde Kawa represent the farmers’ first chance in generations to handle their own affairs and export directly at or above market prices. They also represent the first time farmers have had the economic stability to think long-term and plan an environmentally sustainable business capable of providing income for generations to come.

“In three years of working with you we’ve done many things. We have a new coffee washing station, we’ve built our headquarters, and another micro-washing station. We’ve built the canteen and community center, we’ve purchased land for 1,000 coffee trees to provide income for the cooperative. We also give money to the members of the cooperative for scholarships, this means that now there are no children in our community missing school. The people can pay for their hospital bills. We feel hopeful because in just three years our business has grown and this has meant many good things in people’s lives.”

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