The drive to Musasa is a long, slow climb from the rolling hills and valleys surrounding Kigali. After three hours of travel, I arrived at the headquarters of Dukunde Kawa Cooperative along with Ben Schmerler and Christine Condo of TransfairUSA’s Global Producer Services program. I was thankful for Ben and Christine’s company as the cooperative had recently elected a new board of directors and a new general manager. Change—transitions of these kind—are often a good thing in young, growing cooperatives. But of course, there’s a lot of unknowns when the people you’ve been working with for the past three years are no longer in place; they’ve been replaced by who?
That question was foremost in my mind as we passed through the town of Ruli and pulled into the Dukunde Kawa driveway. A few minutes later after hugs and hellos and how is your father and how is your mother we got down to business.
There, seated in a circle, I watched my uncertainty dissolve into the realization that we were on solid ground, and that the cooperative was moving forward into the next stage of its growth. Here we were looking together at our sixth season, another container of beautifully prepared coffee, our total purchases crossing the 250,000 lb mark, closing in on half a million US dollars from our community to theirs…
In the two hours that followed we confirmed our contract for the upcoming 2010 harvest, agreed to the particulars of pre-harvest financing, shipping dates, and the specific microlots we’ll be choosing from out of the co-op’s top grades to create our container. I had with me a copy of an exciting work-in-progress—a climate change adaptation project funding proposal—and wasn’t sure if it was even of interest to the new leadership. Ah, not so. The new board of directors beat me to the punch. When can we start? Why is it taking so long to find a partner to fund this project? Do you have the most recent version? Sweet. That’s green light on the project—three years of on farm reforestation, watershed protection, and income diversification with a really interesting methodology that essentially creates a competition among farmers for the best demonstration of ecosystem strengthening. Imagine a shade grown/topsoil conservation/watershed protection race to the top, if that makes any sense.
Then suddenly, it was time to go. Short but very sweet, another small step forward in the quest to match great coffee with healthy, thriving, self-sustaining communities. As our jeep bounced along the road back to Kigali I thought about the past and the future, where we came from and where we are going, and was thankful for another generation of leadership at the cooperative and the opportunity to take those small—sometimes invisible—important steps forward.
Click here to read past blog posts on our partnership with this inspiring Rwandan cooperative.