Moment in time: Rwanda 2005
One of my favorite ways to photograph a group is to catch the group posing for a photo being taken by someone else. Here, Alan Odom poses with a group of coffee farmers after a successful first meeting with their cooperative members. Alan works for a coffee importing company, InterAmerican Commodities that we use to help us bring the coffee from there to here. In the coffee industry these importing companies provide services in areas such as contracts, financing, customs, insurance, and storage once the coffee lands in the USA. Alan was with me on this trip because it an opportunity he could not miss for his company.
The Genocide in 1994 had wiped out the coffee production in Rwanda. To help rebuild it, USAID funded a development project (2002) led by Michigan State University and Texas A & M. Tim Schilling; an Agronomist professor at A&M was hired to lead the rebuilding. In 2004 Thanksgiving Coffee Company was asked to send a representative to Rwanda to help develop a market plan for Rwanda’s reentry into the coffee trade, this time, not as a commodity with no identity, but as a Specialty Coffee with a real story to tell. Joan Katzeff volunteered to be part of the all expenses paid trip (Paid for by U.S. Taxpayers). Thanksgiving Coffee was one of just four companies singled out to help this ravaged but resurgent coffee Rwandan coffee industry.
Joan’s first trip to Africa connected Thanksgiving Coffee with The Dian Fosse Gorilla Fund, which was headquartered in Rwanda where the last remaining Mountain Gorillas (380) live on the edge of extinction. Within six months our GORILLA FUND coffee was the first Rwanda Coffee to be sold in the United States and Thanksgiving Coffee received the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s first Sustainability Award in 2004 for our creative efforts to introduce the Rwanda Coffee Story to American coffee lovers.
When Alan Odom and I returned to Rwanda the following year to cement the relationships Joan had forged the year before and to introduce the idea of cupping labs to the USAID development project as a further way to improve quality and increase the value of the crop, we met with many cooperatives and tasted coffees from all over the country’s coffee growing region. Being among the first coffee roasters to visit Rwanda, we were able to find the best coffee and sign a three-year purchase agreement with the cooperative. I negotiated the price with the farmers ($2.04/lb for one container of 37,500 lbs.) and InterAmerican did the importing for us. This photo, taken after the deal was signed, conveys everyone’s mood at the time. You can purchase this coffee and taste one of Africa’s great coffees at on our webstore. It was a fine coffee in 2004 but today our Gorilla Fund Coffee is one of the best tasting coffees in the world.