MBILIMA WOMEN’S COFFEE – ORGANIC

Country: RWANDA
Region: Rushashi District, Ruli Sector, Northern Province
Owner: Dukunde Kawa
Washing Station: Mbilima
Farmers: 274 of the 1,176 Dukunde Kawa Cooperative members
Altitude: 2,020 metres above sea level
Variety: 100% Red Bourbon
Processing: Fully Washed
Awards: Cup of Excellence 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015

Incredibly perfumed and floral. Butterscotch and custard with a citrus and tea-like finish.

About Mbilima Women’s Coffee – Organic (with thanks to Melbourne Coffee Merchants):

This special micro lot was produced by a group of women who are members of the Dukunde Kawa cooperative. They own small farms near the Mbilima cooperative, which is located in the rugged Northwest in the town of Musasa, at around 2,020 metres above sea level, making it one of Rwanda’s highest washing stations. Close to the famous Virunga (Volcanoes) National Park, this part of the world has the mineral-rich soil and lush environment that is well-suited to specialty coffee.

By Rwandan standards, the Mbilima washing station is quite small, representing only 274 local producers in the area, 60 of which are women.

As members of the Dukunde Kawa cooperative the members are guaranteed a minimum price for their coffee cherries, and are paid a good price to ensure the very best quality cherries are delivered. In addition to this they receive a bonus which is directly linked to the quality and prices paid for the coffee. By separating their coffees out, the women are able to directly benefit from any higher prices paid specifically for their lots (rather than these profits being shared equally amongst all members). This creates a very important and effective incentive for them to work hard as a collective towards achieving the very best quality possible; and the results are evident in the cup.

Coffee is an important cash crop for Dukunde Kawa’s members, but as it only harvests once a year, the cooperative is always looking for ways to support its members outside of the harvest. During our last visit to Rwanda we asked Isaac, the Executive Secretary of Dukunde Kawa, what their members needed the most. He explained that the women needed a room for their craft work. Many of the women are talented weavers, and during the off season (and on days they are not harvesting coffee) they weave incredible baskets that they sell at local markets. Currently this is done outside due to lack of space, however having a dedicated room would protect them from the elements, providing a much nicer a space for them to work and, importantly, connect — many of the women that form this group are widows — and the support and sense of community they get from being part of this group is incredibly valuable.

ABOUT THE DUKUNDE KAWA COOPERATIVE

The Dukunde Kawa Cooperative was established in 2000. Three years later, it built its first washing station, Ruli, with the help of a development loan from the Rwandan government and the support of the USAID-funded Partnership for Enhancing Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages (PEARL) program. This transformational program was aimed at switching the focus of the Rwandan coffee sector from an historic emphasis on quantity to one of quality—and, in doing so, opened Rwanda up to the far higher-earning specialty coffee market. The program and its successor, Sustaining Partnerships to enhance Rural Enterprise and Agribusiness Development (SPREAD), have been invaluable in helping Rwanda’s small-scale coffee farmers rebuild their production in the wake of the devastating 1994 genocide and the 1990s world coffee crash.

All of Dukunde Kawa’s members are small-scale producers who typically own less than a quarter of a hectare of land each. They use this land to cultivate an average of 250–300 coffee trees, along with other subsistence food crops such as maize and beans. By selling their coffee to Dukunde Kawa, these farmers are able to process their cherries centrally and combine their harvests into quantities large enough for export. Dukunde Kawa provides its members with agronomy training, access to fertilisers and organic pesticides, and a host of other resources to support farms and families.

In order to become a member of Dukunde Kawa, a coffee farmer first submits a letter of interest, which is presented at the cooperative’s general assembly. The cooperative’s agronomist then visits the applicant’s farm, and the local cooperative members vote on the new membership. Once approved, the applicant pays a joining fee that, in turn, goes back into the cooperative.

Before the proliferation of cooperatives and washing stations in Rwanda, small farmers sold semi-processed cherries on to a middleman, and the market was dominated by a single exporter. This commodity-focused system—coupled with declining world prices in the 1990s—brought severe hardship to farmers, some of whom abandoned coffee entirely.

Today, it’s a different picture. Farmers who work with Dukunde Kawa have seen their income at least double, and the cooperative produces outstanding lots of coffee for us year after year.

Dukunde Kawa has a very transparent relationship with its members. They pay a fixed rate at the start of the harvest for coffee delivered to the station, and then reward all farmers with a second payment later in the season, based on any additional profits they have been able to secure from lots that have sold for higher than expected prices.

In an effort to continuously help their members improve the quality of coffee produced, the cooperative has built classrooms, along with a model farm that is used to demonstrate best practices in coffee farming

In addition to the great work that the cooperative does with quality improvement and assurance, it also operates various social programs that greatly contribute to the livelihoods of their members. Assistance with school fees and medical insurance is provided, along with training in quality and productivity in cultivation of coffee. In addition they have set up a “Farmers Savings Account” which provides a line of credit for farmers needing access to funds (for things like health care, problems at home, farming materials etc).

IMPROVEMENTS AT DUKUNDE KAWA

Dukunde Kawa is a highly creative and dynamic cooperative. We have been working with this cooperative since 2008, and every time we visit, we’re impressed by the new investments and improvements implemented by the cooperative.

Recently, for example, the cooperative has invested in three new mechanical cherry sorters (which divide the ripe from underripe cherries prior to pulping the coffee)—one for each of its washing stations. These machines are expensive and difficult to get to the rural washing station so it’s a significant and commendable investment made by the cooperative. This kind of decision is a great example of how the Dukunde Kawa cooperative thinks about and appreciates the kind of long-term investment that is essential to produce high quality coffee.

In addition,  the cooperative has also built a milk-refrigeration facility to help generate off-season income for farmers and their families. Farmers are able to supplement their income through the sales of milk, and the community benefits as it is able to access fresh milk and cheese which helps improve their diets. In addition, their cows produce very useful fertiliser for the coffee! The cooperative is now also raising funds for a pasteurisation machine, which will enable farmers to sell their milk in Kigali for higher prices.

Dukunde Kawa has also completed construction on its very own dry mill and warehouse, which is very rare for rural Rwanda—this sort of infrastructure is usually found only in the urban centre of Kigali. This (excitingly) gives them more control over the processing, and means even more micro-lot separation will be possible as well as more experimental lots in coming years. They are also in the process of constructing a cupping room where farmers will be trained to taste and critically evaluate their coffees.

The cooperative works extremely hard to improve the lives of its members and their families, and to produce the best quality coffee possible. According to the cooperative’s former long-term president, Anastase Minani, Dukunde Kawa’s goal is to be the very best cooperative in Rwanda. We think they’re well on their way to achieving this goal!

ABOUT MBLIMA

Four permanent staff and 92 seasonal workers are employed by Mbilima washing station—of whom 95% are women. Quality control and day to day operations are overseen by John Bosco Habimana, who has been the Wet Mill Manager since 2012. Mbilima has recently become 100% organic, Rainforest Alliance certified, UTZ certified, and Fair Trade certified. John Bosco explained that becoming certified has been extremely useful in formalising and documenting a lot of things that the cooperative was already doing ‘to better the lives of our producers and quality of our coffee. It’s been a lot of work to get the certifications,’ he explained, ‘but it also made us realise how many positive things we were already doing. These certifications reinforce this.’ 

Dukunde Kawa now owns three washing stations. In addition to Mbilima, they own another small washing station called Nkara, and a larger washing station, built in 2003, called Ruli. The cooperative has nearly 2,000 contributing members, of whom 20% are female farmers. Mbilima was built in 2005, using the profits earned from their first washing station, Ruli.

HOW COFFEE AT DUKUNDE KAWA IS PROCESSED

The team at Dukunde Kawa takes a huge amount of care in processing its coffee. All members of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative are trained to only select the very ripest coffee cherries from their trees.