Rwanda and Burundi, neighbouring East African countries, land locked between the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west, Tanzania and to the east and Uganda to the north, are perhaps two lesser-known coffee producing countries of Africa.
We have been using a Rwandan component in our blends since 2017 and as of December this year, we will supplement the Rwandan components seasonally with coffee from Raw Material projects in Burundi. Though they are neighbouring countries, the timing of their respective harvests allows us to have fresh coffee cycle biannually in our blends while also extending the reach of our buying.
Coffee is an integral sector for the economies of both countries and Raw Material has been supporting projects in both since 2016.
Known infamously for the horrific genocide of 1994 which claimed the lives of over 800,000 people, coffee continues to play a crucial role in the development of the country. With over 400,000 families relying on coffee for their primary source of income, coffee is vital for the monetization of the rural economy.
The country has experienced incredible growth and development since 1994, with a strong tourism sector, energy and hospitality are also important income earners for the country. Despite this, Rwanda is ranked the 21st poorest country in terms of GDP per capita by the International Monetary Fund. It is heavily dependent on agricultural exports, with coffee making up the leading agri-export, it is ranked 30th on the index of coffee producing countries by volume.
Raw Material has been working with Muraho Training Company (MTCo) since 2016. MTCo, one of Rwanda’s first fully dedicated specialty coffee producers and exporters, has blazed trails in the Rwandan coffee sector. In 2016 they were the first company to legally produce and export natural and honey processed coffee, developing all new flavour profiles for the country and setting new quality standards. Raw Material has shared learnings from Colombia and helped provide market access for MTCo’s coffee throughout New Zealand, Australia, the UK, UAE, Europe and Asia.
MTCo support over 3000 coffee farming families throughout the Nyamasheke, Gakenke and Nyabihu districts. As well as providing seasonal employment for hundreds of people across these regions, MTCo have developed a payment model specific to the Rwandan coffee value chain that ensures producers are paid above market rate and premiums for their higher-grade coffee. MTCo pay above minimum wage for their season workforce and provide insurance and social security benefits. In addition to this they support producers through the distribution of coffee seedlings in the off season as well as providing best practice agronomic support and training.
Together with Raw Material, MTCo and the local government supported the Nyabihu communities who experienced devastation in May 2020 when mudslides ripped through the hills around Shyira and Vunga, destroying homes, lives and crops. Over $170,000 was raised, 25 new homes built and thousands of coffee and other sustenance crops were planted and replaced. You can watch the incredible results of the international fundraising efforts can be viewed here. Phase 3 funding for building resilience programmes is still underway.
As well as operating 5 of their own washing stations, they are the export partner for the Vunga Cooperative, a female lead, 260-member cooperative. Since partnering in 2017, MTCo have worked with members of Vunga on quality initiatives and as a result have received the highest and most consistent price for their coffee since its founding in 2009.
In addition to the export price per kilo, Raw Material have contributed to Vunga’s washing station regeneration fund. Prior to their partnership with MTCo, the cooperative received insufficient funds from the sale of their coffee and had very little means to invest in the upkeep of their station. As a result, the facilities became dilapidated. Vunga have since completely rebuilt their washing station, extended their warehousing capacity and increased the number of drying beds, this has increased their capacity and provided important quality control elements for their production.
Flight Coffee has been supporting MTCo since their very first season in 2016. With the first ever harvest from the stunning Kilimbi Coffee Washing Station, we have featured coffee from the Nyamasheke washing stations every year since as well as featured micro lots from other stations.
The histories of Rwanda and Burundi are inextricably linked. Both nations suffered dire consequences of European colonialization in the late 19th century, both have endured catastrophic civil unrest and genocide, both share ethnic ties and history, however, where Rwanda has managed to find relative success in nation building efforts post 1994, Burundi has been much less fortunate.
The number of people living below the poverty line is steadily increasing; from 72% in 2013 to 82% in 2019, it is expected to reach 85% in 2022. (Source: The World Bank 2011, PPP adjusted, the international poverty line is $1.90 USD/capita/day). The International Monetary Fund lists Burundi as the poorest country in the world in terms of GDP per capita.
94% of the population live in rural areas and over 800,000 families rely on coffee for their primary source of income. Coffee is the highest agricultural export earner for the country and when including tea exports accounts for about 80% of foreign currency earnings. One of the issues facing the long-term viability of the Burundian coffee sector is the year-on-year decline of production, of the many issues facing country, this is one of the most urgent.
Burundi has some of the most ideal conditions for growing high quality coffee yet while the global demand for specialty coffee is expected to reach $84 billion by 2025, up from $36 billion in 2018, producers are unable to capture any of the value in the growth of this demand. The reasons for this are varied and complex; this is one of the main issues Raw Material is working to solve.
In 2019 Raw Material established its first coffee washing station in the Kayanza region of northern Burundi. Izuba (The word for “Sun” in the local language Kirundi), purchases coffee from small holder producers guaranteeing prices paid to producers are above market and reflective of quality. In the similar manner to Timor Leste, Raw Material manages processing to maximise the quality and production of coffee.
It is early days with this project; however, Raw Material expect that the profitability per kilo will double in the immediate term through channelling the production through the specialty coffee market. The medium-term plan is to address the urgent issue of declining production. By directing profits through pruning, fertilization and other agronomic programmes, Raw Material project an eventual increase in yields 3-4x that of current production, which should result in 5-6x increase in household income when sold through Raw Material supply chains.
Following the 2019 season, some important lessons were learned, Raw Material discovered the first and highest-value investment was to provide full health insurance to all households who delivered coffee to Izuba. As the future seasons occur, more initiatives such as this will be rolled out.
We have committed to purchase our first full container from Izuba in December this year, it will replace the Rwandan component when this stock runs down and further our buying to communities who need access to the specialty coffee market.