Jonathan Kalan is a freelance photojournalist in Africa who recently wrote a series of articles for the Borlaug Institute on the USAID SPREAD Project in Rwanda. The 6-part series of articles focus on SPREAD’s impact on the specialty coffee industry in Rwanda— from its influence on the lives of farmers to government policy.
Kalan was recently interviewed by The Salt, NPR’s food blog, and he spoke about the USAID/Borlaug Institute/ Texas A&M partnership in Rwanda which helped start the Rwandan specialty coffee industry. Check out the excerpt below and click here to read the full article on the NPR website.
Q: How did the farmers learn to grow and produce top-grade coffees?
A: Many people credit a project called PEARL for kickstarting the specialty coffee industry in Rwanda. PEARL is a collaboration among Texas A&M, the U.S. Agency for International Development and Rwanda’s Ministry of Education.
Since 2000, PEARL has trained young Rwandan students in agronomy (because most people with expertise in this field either fled the country or were killed during the 1994 genocide), cupping and quality-control management. They also built new washing stations and formed farmer cooperatives, which was key because cooperatives give farmers more control of their product and a further economic stake in the quality of their coffee.
Q: Premium coffee beans can cost five times more than regular ones. Do the farmers actually reap the benefits of these high prices?
A: Definitely. In 2000, farmers from Rwanda’s first coffee cooperative earned around $0.20 for one kilogram of ordinary coffee. In 2011, these same farmers got roughly $3.50 per kilogram. That’s a pretty monumental difference.
Take the case of Uwimana Immaculee, a farmer in southern Rwanda. For years, she and her family had been struggling to produce beans, sorghum and other small crops, with little financial success. Seeing her neighbors benefit from specialty coffee, she decided to take a risk and invest her family savings in 100 coffee trees.
She has never looked back.
Uwimana’s farm has tripled in size now. This season she sold 700 kilograms of freshly picked coffee cherries to a local specialty coffee washing station, earning over $350, which is no small change in rural Rwanda.
The extra money from coffee has helped her put two children through school, build a new house and even invest in new land to expand her plantation.