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Case study - koakaka

In the southern province of Rwanda, three coffee associations in the Karama, Kinyamakara and Rukondo communities came together in 1999 with the purpose of strengthening their position in the local coffee sector and increasing their access to international markets. This union was later formalised in 2002 and named KOAKAKA (Koperative y’ abahinzi ba Kawa Karaba, meaning ‘Co-operative of Coffee Growers of Karaba’). Their coffee is grown on the edge of the Nyungwe rainforest, a protected natural reserve that is also known as the ‘green lung’ of the region.

Starting with 867 farmers, the co-operative now has 1,316 members (297 women) and each farmer must have a minimum of 300 trees. Almost all members are small-scale farmers, each owning approximately a quarter of a hectare of land where they grow on average 400 coffee trees, together with other crops such as bananas, corn and beans. These crops provide food for the household and any surplus is sold on the local market for additional income.

Rwanda is a landlocked country, which can cause import and export challenges. Access to finance is limited, with most commercial banks perceiving the agriculture sector as particularly risky, particularly farming on a small scale. 

Shared Interest was the first international finance provider to support KOAKAKA in 2013 with a Commercial Order Export Credit (COEC) facility of USD 200k in order to prefinance their coffee harvest. Before securing this facility, KOAKAKA faced challenges in paying farmers for their coffee each season. They relied on their local bank, but the funds often arrived late, leaving the co-operative unable to pay for the entire harvest. The facility enabled KOAKAKA to begin purchasing all of the coffee from their members, increasing their production volume as well as member loyalty. 

In 2014, Shared Interest provided KOAKAKA with a Term Loan of USD 27k to purchase a truck, which reduced their production costs, as they previously had to hire vehicles to transport their coffee between the two washing stations.

KOAKAKA General Manager Safari Bonaventure said: “We have farmers located long distance away from coffee washing stations. We help farmers to bring cherries using the truck. And the work of truck is to increase the quality because after harvesting we process the coffee cherries. 

“The truck is also to help farmers if they have a problem for example if they attend a funeral, the truck is used to set up the ceremony, or if employees are getting married the truck is used in the ceremony for transportation.”

In 2016, the Rwandan government implemented a ‘zoning policy’ in the coffee sector. The scheme run by The National Agriculture Exports Development Board (NAEB), aimed to better organise the industry, improve quality and traceability of coffee, and cut out intermediaries. The strategy called upon coffee washing stations and factories to extend their support to farmers in their respective geographical areas. Production dropped significantly at this time and prompted KOAKAKA to construct their third coffee washing station in Gaseke.

That same year, the co-operative used their Fairtrade Premium to connect 12 families near the Karambi washing station to electricity. 

Coffee farmer Marcel Myasiro said: “Since we got power, we were able to sort coffee beans better and supply them to the market. When we get time in the evening, we switch on the light and sort the coffee. There are even people who supply coffee at the plant, get money and are able to buy everything they need, and the village where the plant is located gets developed.”

A proportion of the Premium was also used to install a water tank for the ‘Women in Coffee’ group. This enabled their crop to be washed separately to the other coffee cherries, improving traceability. 

There is a higher proportion of female coffee producers in Rwanda compared with other coffee-growing countries. This is a direct impact of the genocide in 1994, in which more men than women were tragically killed. This accelerated a change in law that enabled women to inherit land, gain education and take leadership roles. Women’s development is a priority at KOAKAKA and the ‘Women in Coffee’ project is the most prominent.

Marie Claire was invited to join this initiative in 2015. She explains her motivation to be part of it: “Although we owned coffee farms, we didn’t have much say on them. But when the project of coffee for women came, as women, we were encouraged to have access to and ownership of our farms. That encouraged us to put in more effort knowing the fields were ours.” 

Since joining KOAKAKA, Marie Claire has increased the number of trees on her farm to 720, and over half of these are organic. She told us how the increased income has made a difference: “Changes are here, resulting from the co-operative and resulting from the women’s group. We learn to plant agroforestry trees that add more shades to the coffee fields, and we learn proper mulching techniques, and proper techniques to apply manure and mulch them. We have agronomists who visit us and who show us what to do in coffee fields. 

“Other changes, I own a cow and I got it from coffee farming, I also own a house, it was in pretty bad shape but I was able to modestly renovate it thanks to coffee farming. Coffee farming has led me to good achievements. I never lack insurance for my children, for the family. And my children can’t lack food as a result of working on the coffee farm. So, there is change.”

You can read the full Social Accounts document here.

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