The life of Francine Mukareta and Vincent Bakundukize was characterised by subsistence farming 10 years ago. The couple from Huye District lived from hand to mouth with no savings or investments to their name.
However, all this was to change after Mukareta mooted the idea of growing coffee on part of their land in 2006. “Though my husband was at first reluctant to replace food crops with coffee trees, he later relented and we raised Rwf45,000 to buy a small piece of land for the project,” Mukareta narrates.
The couple’s neighbours were earning big from coffee farming, and Mukareta believed that if they embraced proper agronomical practices and modern farming methods, they would outdo them. Besides, her husband was earning peanuts as cook.
“When I explained all this, my husband realised it was the golden idea and started searching for information and learning more about coffee growing,” says Mukareta, a resident of Cyahafi village, Mbazi sector in Huye.
As they say, the rest is history as the couple is today able to cater for their six children without any challenges, thanks to coffee sales.
In 2006, Mukareta planted 600 Arabica coffee trees. Four years later, she started harvesting (the crop takes four years for one to get the first harvest). The family earns over Rwf1 million every harvest. They were also able to expand the plantation after buying another piece of land and now they boast of over 1,800 coffee trees.
The mother of six says last season they harvested one tonne of coffee beans, earning over Rwf300,000, adding that this was the lowest they have made since the inception of the coffee farming initiative.
The current price of coffee is Rwf300 per kilogramme of the beans. Mukareta sells her coffee beans to Huye Mountain Coffee Company, a washing station and processor in Huye District.
The enterprising rural woman says growing coffee has transformed her life and her family, noting that she is financially independent and does not wait on the husband for money.
“Coffee growing has empowered me financially and improved our living standards. It is now very easy to pay school fees for my children. Previously, I was worried that we would never afford to send them to good schools because of poverty,” she says.
Mukareta says coffee farming is a challenging venture, adding that she has been able to score some successes because of passion and hard work.
The 48-year-old farmer has also diversified the enterprise bringing on board livestock farming. She now has two dairy cows, pigs and goats.
Like other farmers in the country, Mukareta’s project is being threatened by the impact of climate change, especially prolonged dry spells that affect production and quality of beans.
The farmer attributes last season’s poor harvest to drought. “Coffee growing presently needs one to adopt new farming approaches like irrigating and fertiliser application, as well as mulching to get a good harvest,” she explains.
The main coffee season is April to July. There is also lack of easy access to coffee washing stations which affects earnings and quality. She adds that washing stations do not accept poor quality coffee cherries.
“When this happens, we use traditional means of processing coffee beans and sell to other buyers, but it reduces our net profit and kills morale,” she notes.
Mukareta urges farmers to always follow recommended coffee growing practices. She adds that coffee planting should always be at the beginning of the rain season since the crop will thrive when there is good soil moisture during the initial stages of growth. Farmers need also to watch out for pests and diseases that can destroy entire plantations.
What others say
Stanislas Mparaye, a 61-year-old coffee farmer in Huye, says coffee growing changed lives of residents. Mparaye boasts of over 2,000 coffee trees from which he earns millions. He says small-scale farmers like Mukareta have been able to improve household incomes and livelihoods because of coffee farming.
Eric Ujeneza, a coffee buyer, says that coffee growing is one of the agro-tourism products that presently attract many visitors. He says that farmers like Mukareta who work with Huye Mountain Coffee Company are assured of a ready market. The company practices agro-tourism and has a coffee trail where tourists visit and learn about the history of coffee and coffee processing procedures.
Theobald Rukeratabo says Mukareta has been able to improve her life due to coffee, adding that the crop provides sustainable income for the rural poor.