Over 800 women from Nyaruguru and Kayonza districts recently completed a year training in coffee agronomy best practices courtesy of a local non-government organization, Sustainable Harvest Rwanda.
Coffee has traditionally played a central role in Rwanda’s economy and culture, yet women who provide most of the labour in the production and value addition chain, were always relegated to the back seat.
Even with a long tradition of being one of the world’s producers of high quality Arabica coffee beans, Rwanda is not immune to challenges associated with producing this globally traded crop, sometimes referred to as ‘black gold’.
Globally, the coffee industry faces challenges in meeting the changing quality demands of consumers and the way Rwanda coffee producers respond will determine how the sector will contribute to their wellbeing and overall economic growth of the country. It is against this background that rural women have started training to enhance their coffee growing and processing skills.
The programme is expected to help dismantle barriers that stand in the way of rural women’s participation in key sector drivers of economic growth, such as coffee. Women make up the majority of the workforce growing, harvesting and sorting of coffee. Therefore, raising their knowledge about the industry will improve the overall health of the coffee.
Sustainable Harvest Rwanda, among other things, works to create economic opportunities in the Rwandan coffee trade for women entering the job market with new skills.
According to Marcus Young, the director of business operations. women in rural Rwanda and indeed most of Africa play the biggest role in coffee production and value addition chain.
“In Rwanda, women have become a driving economic force. Our goal is to foster partnerships that maximize opportunities for women enrolled in our programme to learn new skills, access jobs and connect with new global markets so they can thrive financially; contributing to their families and ultimately creating a more stable and prosperous future,” he said.
He noted that over a three-year period, the project seeks to uplift the livelihoods of about 3,500 low-income women farmers through training that creates basis for more transparent trade, improved quality and higher prices. The programme empowers women farmers to produce more from their small plots of land, connect with international buyers, reduce exposure to financial commodity market risk, and improve the environmental sustainability of their communities.
“In Nyaruguru, the Nyampinga Cooperative in Bunge Cell, women have been able to sort and process cherries separately from the rest of the deliveries, increasing the income they receive from coffee production. In Kayonza district we built on the success of existing cooperatives and encouraged the formation of new ones,” said Young.
Since women form a critical part of the supply chain, their knowledge and skills has an impact on the entire coffee industry.
Smallholder women coffee producers, working with this programme, are proud of having been able to transform the coffee value chain, making it inclusive and efficient.
Jeanne Murekatete, a coffee grower in Kayonza District said that believing in the power and potential of smallholder women farmers was enabling innovation in the production chain.
She added that the one-year training in coffee growing and processing was a great learning experience that she will share with her community.
“These days I am more than just a housewife; I am also a coffee producer, member and president of cooperative and a coffee specialist. Coffee offers women a chance to build a positive future and heal the disruptions caused by poverty,” she said.
Claudine Mukeshima, another coffee grower, said gone are the days the role of women in coffee sector was relegated.
“There is no doubt that Rwanda is moving in the right direction by involving and equipping women with knowledge and skills to produce and process coffee. The benefits can already be seen. Women have also vowed to seize the opportunity for economic emancipation,” she noted.