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Rwandan coffee hits Sainsbury's

Fair trade success for Rwandan coffee co-operative.

Cafe de MarabaThe benefits of fair trade are evident in the steep hills of the Maraba district in rural Rwanda. In this traditional coffee growing area 1500 people receive an income from their involvement in the Abahuzamugambi Co-operative which started in 1999. These include people involved in growing, washing, drying, pulping and sorting, and packing the beans.

At the core of the co-operative are 650 smallholder farmers, some of whom are widows and orphans of the 1994 genocide. An initiative by USAID and supported, among others by DFID, the project focuses on helping them develop a consistent crop, exchanging high volume and low quality for low volume high quality. The hero was the Bourbon coffee bean, from one of the world’s oldest and finest varieties of Arabica tree. Seldom commercially grown today, the trees produce a lower yield compared to many modern varieties, but the taste, according to connoisseurs is “smooth with a sweet fruity nature and rich full body”. This makes the beans eminently suitable for the gourmet coffee market.

Previously, each grower had not only harvested their crop, but been responsible for all the other highly specialised parts of the process, up to and including negotiating a price from the National Coffee Office. Now, having benefited from the advice of agronomists, they can concentrate on the horticulture, simply delivering their harvest to the newly built coffee washing station which is supplied with clean, spring water and has its own role to play in improving the taste of the coffee. All other parts of the process are taken care of.

The Abahuzamugambi Co-operative beans become Café de Maraba, widely recognised as Rwanda’s finest coffee, sold in upscale shops in the capital Kigali. But the very best beans have been bought at fair trade prices (roughly three times more than offered by local merchants) by Union Coffee Roasters, a UK-based ethical coffee company. They, with the support of Comic Relief, launched Café Maraba Bourbon on the British market, selling exclusively through Sainsbury’s.

Union Coffee Roasters roastmaster Dr Steven Macatonia is excited about the benefits to the community: “Suddenly, the growers have a face and a voice: no more is Rwandan coffee an anonymous bulk grade. This is testament to our belief in direct, ethical and long-term partnerships between grower and roaster.”

Coffee-bean sortingPascal Kalisa, a 22 year old Rwandan agronomist who grew up in the area and now works for the co-operative, confirms the local value and believes ventures like these could have a wider and larger significance for Rwanda: “There is a real need for co-operatives like this. The whole area is more prosperous as a result. As growers and people who work on the processing earn money they spread it around among the local businesses. Everyone benefits.

“It’s also an example of people working together: people who escaped the genocide, killers, Tutsis, Hutus; all working together. It’s hopeful. If we continue to have peace and jobs, then even more will change.”

And the coffee’s not bad either, at least according to Steven Macatonia: “The result is a wonderfully developed, well balanced and zesty cup with an intriguing depth that imparts deep milk chocolate notes. A delightfully crisp sparkle of citrus gently lingers on the palate.”

More on Café Maraba Bourbon at
www.careforcoffee.co.uk

Images © Malcolm Doney

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It’s also an example of people working together: people who escaped the genocide, killers, Tutsis, Hutus; all working together. It’s hopeful. If we continue to have peace and jobs, then even more will change.