This coffee comes from Mbilima washing station, in the town of Musasa in Rwanda’s north-west. At an altitude of around 2,020 metres above sea level, it’s one of Rwanda’s highest washing stations, and has had lots recognised in the Rwandan Cup of Excellence awards in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.
By Rwandan standards, the Mbilima washing station is quite small, representing only 270 local producers in the area. They’re 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 the cooperative, these member farmers are able to process their cherries centrally and combine their harvests into quantities large enough for export.
Mbiilma is owned by the Dukunde Kawa cooperative, which also owns two other stations: Nkara and their original station from 2003, named Ruli. The cooperative now has nearly 2,000 contributing members. Dukunde Kawa provides its members with agronomy training, access to fertilisers and organic pesticides, and a host of other resources to support farmers.
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, sharing additional profits with all farmers.
The cooperative also offers assistance with school fees and medical insurance are provided, and 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, unexpected expenses at home, farming materials. They have also built a milk refrigeration facility at nearby Ruli washing station to help generate off-season income for farmers and their families.
About the cooperative
‘Dukunde Kawa’ means ‘love coffee’ in Kinyarwanda (Rwanda’s official language), in reference to the power of coffee to improve the lives of those in rural communities.
In order to become a member of Dukunde Kawa, a coffee farmer must own at least 200 trees, and can apply by submitting 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 (which is 20,000 RWF (approx $23USD)) to be a member of Dukunde Kawa, 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.
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.