Creating Coffee Lifeline Livelihoods
Prior to the 1994 genocide, coffee was the primary cash crop of Rwanda. After the war, the coffee sector was devastated and struggled to recover. Farmers and aid agencies have worked hard to revitalise Rwanda’s place in the global specialty coffee market and since 2000 production and quality have steadily increased. In 2006, coffee exports represented more than half of Rwanda’s export income, and generated $46 million in revenue.
Still, coffee farmers were not experiencing the economic improvement they needed and were struggling to feed their families and send their children to school. The root cause was lack of information. The farmers did not know the correct price of their coffee beans on the world market. Living high in the hills, they could not easily receive the latest news in farming techniques. They did not even have access to weather reports.
Coffee Lifeline in Partnership
To help overcome this difficulty, the Coffee Lifeline project was launched in October 2005 with our partner, Peter Kettler, an American coffee trader. Working with the National University of Rwanda and Texas A&M University in a linkage with USAID’s SPREAD project, we have donated and distributed almost 450 radios to date. Listening groups of almost 100 farmers at a time listen to each radio, thereby benefiting an estimated 35,000 farmers.
Via the Coffee Lifeline project, we not only provide farmers with Lifeline radios, we also help produce a radio program with Radio Salus, called Imbere Heza ‘Brighter Future’. Imbere Heza relays detailed information about coffee growing and processing techniques, international market and pricing information, interviews with coffee roasters and global importers, weather reports, and news from local coffee cooperatives. The response has been tremendous, and a database is being developed in the USA to expand our expert resource base. The experts will work with local station, Radio Salus, to further address the Rwandan farmers’ full range of coffee industry issues.
Coffee Lifeline in Rwanda was originally sponsored by InterAmerican Coffee, and has benefited from support from Tom Hanks, Ancora Coffee Roasters, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and other American coffee companies.