When the average Westerner thinks of Rwanda, they often immediately think of the horrific genocide that took place nearly 20 years ago and left 800,000 dead. Though the Rwanda Genocide is a big part of the nation’s history, there is perhaps an even bigger part that is rewriting its future—the Rwandan coffee industry.
Known as the “land of a thousand hills”, Rwanda’s coffee history dates back to the 1930’s when the Belgian colonial empire forced Rwandan farmers to plant an abundance of coffee trees. This ultimately created a “low-quality/low-price” trap which was a bane for the entire nation. Additionally, Rwandan farmers lacked the proper infrastructure needed to wash and process so much coffee. Whatever coffee was able to be produced was often of the poorest of quality. In the 1980’s, Rwandan coffee prices plummeted at the same time as the 1994 genocide. What was left of the already damaged industry was completely wiped out. By 2000, the future of Rwanda looked very dim.
Fast-forward to 2013. Today, the Rwandan coffee industry is booming and producing some of the highest quality coffee in the world. The coffee industry in Rwanda has been responsible for creating jobs, boosting small farmer expenditure and consumption and even helping in the reconciliation process between the Hutus and Tutsis, many of whom work side-by-side growing and processing coffee beans.
These great developments were made possible by leaders who recognized the potential in the coffee industry. These leaders began lowering trade barriers and lifting restrictions on coffee farmers. Then, Rwanda developed a strategy focused on the production of high-quality beans. The leaders of the Rwandan coffee industry found out that prices on specialty coffee beans often remain quite stable, even when lower-quality coffee prices fell. But the farmers didn’t have to switch the type of coffee beans they were producing. Instead, they focused on paying special attention to the beans throughout the growing process. This improved the quality of the coffee beans.
Lastly, international donors helped fund, train and assist farmers and workers by creating programs like PEARL. The goal of PEARL has been to train young Rwandan students in agronomy, cupping and quality control management.
By growing specialty coffee, Rwandan farmers and co-ops have seen profits for over 10 years now. In 2000, Rwanda’s first coffee cooperative earned around $0.20 for one kilogram of regular-quality coffee. Fast-forward 11 years the same co-op earned $3.50 per kilogram. The profits that these Rwandan coffee farmers have made have allowed them to send their children to school, build new homes and invest back into their own plantations.
Here at The Roasterie, we know how important coffee really is—especially for those who grow it. Although we all may take our daily cup of coffee here in American for granted, it’s important to keep in mind that in many nations, coffee is an industry that can help an entire culture flourish.
The next time you decide to drink a cup, take time to find out where it came from. If your coffee came from Rwanda, remember that what you’re drinking helped rebuild a country that was once in shambles.
Want to learn more about our coffees and their origins? Schedule a tour of The Roasterie!