The Dukundekawa Musasa cooperative lies high in Rwanda’s rugged north-west, at around 1,800 metres. The co-op built its first coffee washing station in 2003, with a development loan from the Rwandan government and the support of the USAID-financed PEARL project.
This transformational programme was aimed at switching the focus in the Rwandan coffee sector from an historic emphasis on quantity to one of quality – and so opening up Rwanda to the far higher-earning specialty coffee market. The programme and its successor, SPREAD, have been invaluable in helping Rwanda’s small-scale coffee farmers to rebuild their production in the wake of the devastating 1994 genocide and the 1990s world coffee crash.
Musasa now owns two washing stations and is one of Rwanda’s larger cooperatives, with 1,815 members in the 2010/11 crop year. In addition, the co-op buys and processes cherries from a few thousand more farmers in the area who are not official co-op members.
Most of these small scale producers own less than a hectare of land, with an average of only 500 coffee trees each as well as other subsistence food crops. Musasa gives these small farmers the chance to combine their harvests and process cherries centrally – and therefore sell them on to international buyers for far higher prices. Before the proliferation of washing stations such as Musasa, the norm in Rwanda was for small farmers to sell 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 Musasa have seen their income at least double, and the co-op produces some outstanding lots for the specialty market year after year. ‘Dukundekawa’ means ‘love coffee’ in Kinyarwanda (Rwanda’s official language) – in reference to the power of coffee to improve the lives of those in rural communities.
The level of care that Musasa takes over the processing is impressive. Cherries are hand picked only when fully ripe and the beans are sorted, sorted and sorted again to remove defects. Individual lots are also tracked through the pulping, sorting and drying process, meaning that Musasa can trace each lot back to the individual farmers that grow it. This is no mean feat given they are dealing with around 4,000 growers!
Our brokers have been buying from Musasa for over five years now – and we hope this relationship will continue for many years to come.