Mukantwari: From casual worker to coffee sector 'expert'

It is no secret that our thought pattern is essential in determining who we are and whether we can improve ourselves or not. Like an old sage, Norman Vincent Peale, once said, “Change your thoughts and you change your world”.
Mukantwari inspects sorted coffee beans, above. The dealer with farmers, below. (Peterson Tumwebaze)
Mukantwari inspects sorted coffee beans, above. The dealer with farmers, below. (Peterson Tumwebaze)

It is no secret that our thought pattern is essential in determining who we are and whether we can improve ourselves or not. Like an old sage, Norman Vincent Peale, once said, “Change your thoughts and you change your world”. So it was for 24-year-old Clothilde Mukantwari, who rose from sorting coffee beans at National Agriculture Export Board (NAEB) head offices to becoming a sort of coffee expert with one of the big coffee export companies in Rwanda.

How it all started

Mukantwari dreamt of becoming an agronomist while growing up in Kayonza District. However, her dream was dealt a huge blow as she did not qualify for government scholarship and nor would her parents afford to pay for her university education.

“My hopes of becoming an agronomist crumbled and I was left with no choice but to drop out of school and search for job to sustain myself,” says the resident of Kicukiro.

The holder of a high school diploma from Des Amis Secondary School in Kicukiro District was lucky when in 2012 NAEB offered her a job to work with a group of women tasked to sort coffee beans before they are packed for export. “

Many a young woman would be hesitant to accept this kind of job, but I needed the money,” she notes.

Mukantwari also argues that it was better than staying at home doing nothing as most of her peers went for their university studies.

“At that time, the type of job did not matter because what I wanted was to earn some money that would help push forward my dreams,” she says.

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She adds that job gave an opportunity to gain skills and knowledge on how the coffee sector works.

She notes that since her parents were small coffee farmers, she quickly perfected her act at the new job, prompting NAEB to increase her pay.

She says this meant a lot to her as it strengthened her resolve to understanding more about coffee. Mukantwari says with Rwf1,000, she was able to pay for daily meals and transport fare.
Better opportunities

From sorting and sampling coffee, Mukantwari says her good performance on first job saw her being promoted to storekeeper. She adds that shortly after, she was approached by an exporter who offered her better pay and career growth opportunities.

She says the firm, Green Mountain Arabica Coffee, was impressed by her dedication and skills.

She says her new job at Green Mountain Arabica Coffee involved working with farmers and dealers to ensure they understood the requirements for the export market, like picking only ripe coffee cherries and observing other practices that promote quality along the value chain.

“The job involved sensitising farmers on the importance of ensuring that we get the best quality of Arabica coffee, as well as the benefits of value-addition,” she says.

Reporting time

Mukantwari says she feels blessed to have risen from sorting coffee beans at NAEB, where she was earning about Rwf30,000 a few years back, to a big time coffee dealer. She now earns more than Rwf200,000 per month.

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Hands on; Mukantwari operates a coffee huller. (All photos by Peterson Tumwebaze)

She says she has been able to pay for her young sister’s tuition at college, and also save for a rainy day. Mukantwari says working with farmers and exporters to improve Rwanda’s coffee quality and exports is a big achievement. 

Challenges

Mukantwari says she sometimes finds it intimidating to work with older farmers.

She says, however, that she has been able to overcome the challenge by employing her interpersonal and listening skills, as well as patience, an approach that has enabled her perform satisfactorily.

She says the increasing competition in the sector means she has to work hard and innovate to stay on top of her game.

Future plans

Mukantwari dreams of establishing her own coffee roasting company, but notes that her immediate priority is to enroll for a degree in business studies at university. She argues that this will make her more skilled and marketable.

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What others say about her

Steven Rukaka, The Green Mountain Arabica Coffee chief

Mukantwari is hard working and a sort of visionary. If she goes for further studies, she will certainly be a force to reckon with because she is the kind of woman that impacts on the lives of those she gets in contact with.

business@newtimes.co.rw

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