By Minnie Karanja
Rwanda Small Holder Specialty Coffee Company (RWASHOSCCO) is a farmer-owned coffee marketing, exporting, and roasting company that also provides key services to Small Holder coffee cooperatives in Rwanda.
The company is owned by 6 cooperatives spread out across Rwanda including Bufundu Coffee (BUFCOFFEE), Abahuzamugambi ba Maraba, KOAKAKA Karaba in Southern Province, COCAGI Gashonga in Western Province, Dukundekawa Musasa in Northern Province and COCAHU Humure in Eastern Province.
RWASHOSCCO was created in 2005 towards the end of a USAID project as a means of creating sustainability within cooperatives. In 2001 USAID financed two projects aiming at providing assistance to Rwandan producers in coffee processing and construction of coffee washing stations. The projects promoted the formation of cooperatives and aimed at encouraging farmers to improve their product’s quality. Although it helped beneficiaries get good prices for their coffee, the projects lacked sustainability as beneficiaries were totally dependent on USAID grants.
RWASHOSCCO’s Unique management model
The company is an outstanding example of how to move from an organizational framework based on cooperatives to an organizational framework where farmers can own and consolidate their own business. The company’s strength lies in its ability to assemble its members to meet market demand, coupled with an ability to understand the market.
The company’s shareholders are the cooperatives themselves. Each cooperative pays Rwf.90 for every Kilogram of coffee exported to cover part of the company’s running costs. The company does not buy coffee from members to re-sell to third parties but directly connects cooperatives to foreign roasters or coffee companies that seek long-term partnerships with them.
To achieve differentiation in the market, RWASHOSCCO specializes in high quality specialty coffee. This is achieved by providing training to farmers (notably in cupping), improving the processing of coffee beans where a dry processing factory with specialized equipment has been set up, and giving special care to the whole coffee quality control system. RWASHOSCCO has also developed the coffee’s traceability and set up a quality laboratory for quality evaluation.
Over the years, RWASHOSCCO has led to an improvement of coffee quality and profits earned by producers. The company assists cooperatives in price negotiation with buyers in Europe, Japan and the USA, and handles milling, export documents and shipping on behalf of producers. RWASHOSCCO also assists its members in coffee certification, writing of business plans and loan applications.
Improving the livelihoods of farmers through co-operatives
Coffee producers who are part of the 6 co-operatives of RWASHOSCCO receive great socio-economic benefits ranging from specialized trainings on crop and cooperative management to medical insurance. Farmers are encouraged to diversify their income by engaging in other income generating activities in addition to coffee growing. These have led to improved standards of living for the farmers and their families.
To support farmers’ additional income generating activities, cooperatives lend money to the farmers at no interest and allow them to pay on coffee production. Farmers can today borrow up to 3.5 million US Dollars and re-pay within a short period of 1 year. Farmers in all cooperatives are engaged in dairy farming. From the earnings on milk, many have been able to start other activities including goat rearing and farming crops such as maize, sorghum and potatoes. Women in cooperatives have also organized themselves into groups where they make handicrafts for sale.
The income generating activities have contributed greatly to alleviating poverty in communities where the cooperatives are operational. Through these additional activities, farmers are assured of constant flow of income to meet their daily needs. Many have been able to send their children to better schools and afford community health insurance “mituelle de santé” for themselves and their family members.
RWASHOSCCO targets to increase international certification of Rwandan coffee as it plans to export organic coffee which is more competitive in the international market and will earn the farmers more money. Together with this, RWASHOSCCO will tap into “women coffee” for women farmers to earn additional income. There is now a Rwandan chapter for the International Women Coffee Alliance which will be instrumental in mobilizing women farmers and promoting their coffee in the international market.
RWASHOSCCO regularly provides trainings to farmers to increase their capacity to produce excellent coffee on a consistent basis. Each year educational trips are organized to coffee producing countries where co-operative members get the chance to learn from other more advanced co-operatives to help them improve on their own co-operatives.
In addition, RWASHOSCCO is currently building the capacity of co-operative managers by supporting them to obtain knowledge on what happens to the farmers’ coffee once it is sold to importers and roasters. With this knowledge they are in a position to better negotiate with their buyers. In 2016 RWASHOSCCO has so far sponsored two managers for a trip to London.
Meet Bidabasingwa Marie who is one of the women whose lives have been greatly transformed by RWASHOSCCO cooperatives.
Marie has been part of Dukundekawa Musasa cooperative for more than 10 years now and is one of the pioneers of the cooperative. Over the years she has witnessed her life and that of her children improve in leaps and bounds. Hers is a story of rags to riches.
When she joined the cooperative she had nothing of her own to show but her children. Today, she is a confident woman that is able to provide for her family’s needs and has great dreams for her children.
Marie is among hundreds of Rwandan women who lost their husbands and children to the carnage that took place during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis. She lost her husband and two of her children. She also lost all the family property including businesses that were torched down.
After the genocide, she and her remaining five children were left destitute. They lived in harsh conditions not able to afford basic necessities. Marie suffered psychologically as she witnessed her children’s suffering. Through psychosocial support groups however, she regained her sense of worth and was motivated to work hard to get herself out of poverty and provide for the needs of her children. In the groups she met other women who lost their husbands and children and faced similar challenges. This inspired her to live again and take up fully the responsibility of looking after her children.
She started growing crops and after a while she met another farmer who was at the time the president of the Dukundekawa Musasa cooperative and introduced her to coffee growing. Before long she was earning from the coffee and became an example and inspiration to other women in her community.
Since joining the cooperative Marie says that all her prayers have been answered. She has been able to send all her children to school and currently all are at the university pursuing various courses. She has also got mituelle de santé for herself and the children.
Marie has also bought cows which give her constant income through selling milk. She has diversified into growing other crops including sorghum, bananas, Irish and sweet potatoes and maize. Thanks to the income she now gets, she can afford to employ people in her village to look after the cows and help her in the farm.
Marie is proud to have built herself a nice house with electricity and water. She also has solar panels which she uses when electricity goes out. “All my needs are now met. I can buy clothes for myself and my children whenever I want to. All that I have achieved is through the cooperative.” says Marie.
Marie’s testimony is one of hundreds of farmers whose lives have been transformed by RWASHOSCCO’s work.