Ruli Women's Coffee | Rwanda
We Nitrogen Flush all of our coffee when bagging for an inert shelf stable environment by locking freshness inside for up to 6 weeks prior to opening
Producer: 248 Women of the Rambagira Kawa Cooperative
Mill: Ruli Washing Station
Co-op: Dukunde Kawa Cooperative
Region: Ruli Sector, Gakenke District
Varietal: Red Bourbon
Altitude: 1900 - 2100 masl
This special micro-lot was produced by 248 female farmers who own and grow coffee on small farms in the hills surrounding Ruli washing station, located in the Ruli Sector of Gakenke District, in Rwanda’s rugged and mountainous Northern Province. The women are members of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative, who own and manage Ruli washing station, along with two other nearby washing stations.
Dukunde Kawa has been recognised in the Rwandan Cup of Excellence competition in years 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and most recently in the 2018 competition, winning 21st place.
Recently the women of Ruli made the decision to process and market their coffees as their own. The women are part of the Rambagira Kawa Cooperative, a smaller group within Dukunde Kawa that was formed by female coffee producers to share support and resources with each other. Many of the founding members were widowed by the 1994 Genocide and relied upon each other for farming and financial advice. The group is now open to all of the female members of Dukunde Kawa and has grown to 248 members.
To distinguish their coffee and ensure it is processed separately, the women have organised to deliver cherry to the washing station on certain days of the week. Selling their coffee as a separate lot allows the women to directly benefit from any higher prices paid specifically for their coffees (rather than these profits being shared equally amongst all members) and results in a higher income to support their families. This creates an effective incentive for the women to work as a collective towards achieving the very best quality, and we think the results are evident in the complex and clean cup profile of these coffees!
ABOUT RULI WASHING STATION
Ruli was established in 2003 and is the largest of Dukunde Kawa’s washing stations. It serves as the head office for the cooperative’s management team and the site also encompasses the cooperative’s dry mill and its dairy operations. The washing station sits at 1,920 meters above sea level, overlooking a beautiful landscape of rolling green hills and rich, red earth. 836 of Dukunde Kawa’s members delivery cherry to Ruli, which employs 29 permanent staff and increases by almost 200 seasonal staff during the harvest period. The area surrounding Ruli has mineral-rich soil and a lush environment that is well suited to specialty coffee production. Typically, farms are situated between 1,800 to 2,100 meters above sea level. Coffee is grown as a cash crop, alongside subsistence food crops like maize, beans and sorghum and some livestock like goats and chickens. Cows are also an important asset to a farming family. Besides having practical advantages – like providing milk and yoghurt to feed the family, producing excellent manure for the coffee farms, and being an opportunity for additional income – they are also a traditional symbol of wealth and status in Rwanda.
Quality control and day to day operations at Ruli are overseen by Emerthe Muakurigo, who has been the washing station manager since 2014. Ruli has recently become Rainforest Alliance certified, UTZ certified, and Fair Trade certified. These certifications help the growing cooperative find different markets for the coffee. “We were already doing a lot of the things that were required for these certifications”, Isaac (the executive secretary of the cooperative at the time) explained, “We are always trying to be the best cooperative we can be. Getting the certifications has helped highlight what we are doing well and helped us raise our standards in other areas”
Dukunde Kawa owns three washing stations. In addition to Ruli – which is the largest washing station and also serves as the cooperative’s headquarters – they own Mbilima and Nkara washing stations, which were both established in 2005 using profits from Ruli.
Before the proliferation of cooperatives and centralised washing stations in Rwanda, small farmers sold semi-processed cherries on to a middleman, and the market was dominated by a single exporter. This commodity-focused system – coupled with declining world prices in the 1990s – brought severe hardship to farmers, some of whom abandoned coffee entirely. Today, it’s a different picture. Farmers who work with Dukunde Kawa have seen their income at least double, and the cooperative produces outstanding lots of coffee for us year after year.
Dukunde Kawa has a very transparent relationship with its members. Farmers receive their first payment for their coffees when they deliver fresh cherry to the cooperative owned washing station. The set price/kg rate is related to a minimum farmgate price set at the beginning of the harvest period by the Rwandan government, through the National Agriculture Export Development Board (NAEB). Dukunde Kawa members are paid fair prices above the minimum farmgate rate, which increase throughout the season according to quality and competition. Importantly, the farmers also receive a second payment after the coffee is sold, which is worked out according to the premiums the coffee attracted due to its quality and market competition. In an effort to continuously assist members to improve the yield and quality of their coffees, the cooperative provides agronomy training and access to discounted fertilisers and organic pesticides. They have also established a training space at their headquarters and a model farm, which is used to demonstrate best practices in coffee farming.
In addition to the great work that the cooperative does with quality improvement and assurance, it also operates various social programs that greatly contribute to the livelihoods of its members. Assistance with school fees and medical insurance is provided and members also have access to a ‘Farmers Savings Account’ which provides a line of credit to assist with costs like health care, farming materials, domestic improvements and more.
‘Dukunde Kawa’ means ‘love coffee’ in Kinyarwanda (Rwanda’s official language). The name was chosen to symbolise the power of coffee as a means to improve the livelihood of small-scale farming families in rural communities.
One of the most impressive and defining things about Dukunde Kawa is their innovative and dynamic approach. We have been working with this cooperative since 2008 and every time we visit, we’re blown away by the new investments and advancements implemented to improve the lives of its members and their families, and to ensure the highest quality of coffee possible is produced.
For example, in 2015 the cooperative built a dry mill at Ruli washing station. This sort of infrastructure is usually only found in the urban centre of Rwanda’s capital city, Kigali.
Words, Photos & Sourced by Melbourne Coffee Merchants.