Five thirty in the morning, the outskirts of Rwanda.
The sun is slowly rising and painting the night sky in beautiful colors. Florence Niyoomahoro, a coffee grower who owns a small
coffee farm, wakes up for another day at work. The wobbly wooden shade providing shelter from the rain and the burning sun is in the heart of green fields and tall mountains, around it the coffee grove with the center of her family livelihood. Each coffee tree lies peacefully red coffee cherries which she picks one by one. Difficult work. Exhausting.
Coffee is a major part of the average family’s income in Rwanda, and it constitutes a big contribution in a community’s economical strength. The genocide that took place in the country in the 90’s led to women taking charge for economical development. Florence, along with many women like her. Has been growing coffee ever since she remembers herself. She invests the profits directly in her family and in the community’s local economical development. But the difficult work and the lack of knowledge in agricultural methods has caused many women to not know what they are growing in the grove, and some of them didn’t even realize it is a beverage.
“traditionally, Rwandan men are the main providers at home”, According to Florence in a special interview we are conducting with her directly from her home in Rwanda. Florence heads a co-operative of over 300 women coffee growers operating with Strauss Coffee and “Sustainable growers” organization to assist women coffee growers in the country. This project is part of “More than a cup” initiative, developed by Strauss to empower women coffee growers in developing countries. As part of the project, over 13 thousand women and households in Africa, Asia, Central and south America have financial, business and social assistance.
“women are very good at what they do”, explains Florence. “women are the heart and soul. When you invest and guide women you basically invest in the whole family”. Florence explains that ever since the program started 2 years ago many years have changed their lives for the better. “this initiative helps us realize the importance of gender equality and it grants us equal access to resources”, she points. “this program has helped me open my mind and see new things. She has dramatically changed the habits of women in this area and the community around us. Women gained tremendous value from the Strauss project, it had a major impact on the community as a whole and these resources eventually return to the community and neighboring communities”.
Some of the women never tasted coffee
Rwanda is called the land of the thousand hills, and the local say there isn’t one plateau in the country. “it’s either a mountain or a
valley”, jokes Ruth Coleman, director of Sustainable Growers, an organization that operates for social welfare and provide professional training for women coffee growers in the country. The organization operates with Strauss Coffee in operating More than a cup. “Rwanda has been working really hard since the horrible genocide, and coffee is a major part in the local economical development”, she explains. “in the past few years we have seen tremendous progress here”.
More than a cup started 4 years ago with 10 projects in 8 countries – Uganda, Rwanda, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Honduras, Tanzania, Columbia and El Salvador. Ruth says the project in Rwanda completely changed the situation of women in the country and it had a great impact on the community. “when we started working with the co-operative they didn’t have good coffee processing procedures, the machines were outdated and the women had to work extremely hard to work in the farms”, she says. “at first we served coffee in the events we conducted and some of the women never tasted coffee before. The women truly changed their lives”.
Most of the coffee in the world is being produced by small farms. Traditionally, those farms are owned by men and they manage the income. In Rwanda alone that are 400,000 coffee growers. “Coffee here is bought in cash and that is why it’s being controlled by men”, Ruth explains. “this project targets women because when they take the money, 95% of it is being invested back to the family. With men only 30% is being invested in the family, and a major part of the income is being spent on beer. By focusing on women, we guarantee the family as a whole improves and enabling a better future for the children”.
Ever since the project in Rwanda is active, an average family increased production from 0.5KG per tree to 2.3 KG per tree and revenue from coffee increased by 100% per family.
Women increased sales and enhanced the quality of the coffee
Rafi Camhi, business operations and performance excellence manager at Strauss Coffee, explains what led to the development of this special project. “in the world there are over 12 million coffee farms. 95% of them are small coffee growers – less than 5 acres”, Rafi explains. “coffee isn’t industrial. Most of it is hand picked manufactured on a family level that has a few trees behind their house where they grow coffee”.
When it comes to the process the coffee undergoes until it reaches our mug there is also a long way. “small coffee growers are at the bottom of the pyramid and the beginning of a very long and complex value chain”, Rafi adds. “growers sell their produce to those who process it and bring to a form that coffee companies can purchase it: dried and pealed coffee beans with constant quality and taste. The more the coffee growers could sell high level produce and better-quality coffee their income will increase. Our project is meant to provide them with the knowledge, tools and physical infrastructure to get that”.
Rafi says that in addition to working on improving coffee quality there are also activities meant to create gender balance in managing the coffee farm. The impact is crucial in where the project is operated and there is still a long way to go. “we understand we can’t fix the coffee world by ourselves and save all millions of farmers”, Rafi says. “but to the best of our abilities, where we touch, we make a significant impact”.
Revenues increased by 70%
Dr. Anneke Fermont is the director of sustainability at Kyagalanyi, another organization operating in cooperation with Strauss on more than a cup in Uganda. “all of the coffee here is produces by small coffee growers and sometimes it is very challenging to improve coffee productivity”, she explains in an interview. “farmers need to feed their families and send children to school and there is a competition on resources. It is very hard for farmers to invest the money in coffee to increase their income”. Dr. Fremont explains that since they started operating the project revenues of the farmers increased. “in the project we operate in the western Nile we have increased productivity by 50% and sometimes up to 70%”.