For Market Lane in Melbourne, Australia, Rwanda is a country that’s close to their hearts. They have been sourcing coffee from the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative in the Northern district (formerly the Ruashashi district) for six years. They have been dedicated to sharing the remarkable stories behind its coffee.
Established in 2000, the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative is located 70km from the Kigali capital of Rwanda, in the town of Musasa. A Cooperative born from two farmer associations with an initial member base of 300, it has now grown to 1400+ members. With the assistance of a development loan from the Rwandan government and the support of the PEARL project, Dukunde Kawa established their first washing station in Ruli, in 2003. Shortly after they built a washing station in Mbilima in 2005; and another in Nkara in 2007. All the members of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative are small-scale farmers and in contributing their harvests, they are able to reach large enough quantities to export and process coffee cherries centrally.
Prior to Cooperatives like Dukunde Kawa small-scale farmers would sell semi-processed coffees to “middle-men” who had a monopoly over the export market. This encouraged a commodity-focused system of coffee, and combined with a decline in world prices in the 1990’s, the hardship suffered by farmers, pushed some to abandon coffee.
Today, farmers who work with Dukunde Kawa Cooperative have seen their incomes more than double, and are producing high cup scores, with the lot from the Ruli station recognised in the 2014 Cup of Excellence, winning 8th place.
I chatted with Jenni Bryant from Market Lane and learnt more about her recent trip visiting the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative.
How did the relationship between the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative and Market Lane begin?
Market Lane’s relationship with Dukunde Kawa started in 2009 and I started traveling there annually to source in 2013. Before me, Market Lane’s co-founder and director Fleur Studd had spent a lot time developing the relationship with this great cooperative. Dukunde Kawa is supported and managed with so much motivation and creativity – they are continually striving to improve coffee quality and the livelihood of it’s members & their families.
Can you tell me about your recent trip to Dukunde Kawa and how you were engaging with the co-operative?
Our trips to Rwanda have two main goals. One is to positively and mutually develop our relationships with the people that we work with – from small grower farmers to the quality control cuppers in the labs. Our other objective to is to taste (and purchase) the most delicious coffees from the recent harvest!
Visiting the Dukunde Kawa washing stations means waking up early to travel (by car) from the capital, Kigali to the Northern province. These drives are always quite special and insightful as they are valuable times to talk to the directors of the cooperatives. It’s during these casual conversations that you hear about the successes and challenges from the harvest.
Here we are also able to give some feedback about the previous years coffee. Time at the washing stations consists of talking to the many people that work there – managers, farmers, agronomist, sorters, etc.
We always have a long conversation with Minani (Dukunde Kawa’s President) and Isaac (the Ruli/Musasa washing station manager). These two guys are so dynamic and driven. They are a big part of why the co-op is strong.
These visits are so important, they are what gives us first hand experience.They help to understand the health of the cooperative, the culture, and the people responsible for the delicious coffees that we fall in love with.
After these day trips, we spend a lot of time in the cupping (or tasting) lab in Kigali. We taste a lot of fresh coffees alongside their quality control tasters (Eugenie and Emerthe) to identify the very best quality from the recent harvest. We score the coffees and talk about their distinctive flavor profiles. During these times we also have time to catch up with Eugenie & Emerthe about their perspectives on the season from all that that they tasted.
Have you seen the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative change, since you started working with them?
Absolutely! The developments have been significant. Dukunde Kawa continues to get stronger each year. Income for producers have increased, there has been a lot of investment in machinery & infrastructure, and the co-op has increased coffee quality and quantity.
Also, the cooperative has worked fiercely to improved the livelihood of it’s members. For example, the addition of a milk pasteurization machine has been installed to provide off-season income for farmer members. (Coffee is seasonal so finding other sources of income is essential).
In regards to infrastructure, the cooperative has invested in the building of classroom (where co-op meetings and agronomy trainings are held), a dry mill, cupping lab and storage space.
Having these types of resources in rural Rwanda, and at a single cooperative, is incredibly rare and really exciting…both for the members of the cooperatives but also for overall coffee quality!
Has the potato defect had a significant impact on Rwanda?
Specialty coffee has become the main driver of economic growth in Rwanda since the genocide in 1994, and we at Market Lane are dedicated to contributing to Rwanda’s regeneration.
The potato defect has affected Rwanda in regards to the global perception of the quality of Rwandan coffee. It seems as though in the past, some roasters have avoided Rwandan coffee for their espresso blends, which is where the purchasing of larger volume comes from. But this is changing quickly as roasters come to understand the value and quality of Rwandan coffee.
It’s unfortunate that some roasters avoid Rwandan coffee because of potato defect, because the effect this has on their growing economy is huge. The flip side of this, is that any coffee we buy from Rwanda has a deep and powerful effect on a developing economy.
Over the past two years, potato-defect levels have decreased significantly and we don’t know exactly why. There has been a focus to reduce the defect by; excluding damaged cherry, sort more at the parchment stage, and also increasing the use of organic pesticides. We don’t know definitively that these methods will reduce the potato defect for good, but the combination of these things have shown to have a large impact.