Community Coffee’s 15-Year Relationship with Coffee Growers in Rwanda Continues to Pay Dividends

Community Coffee Company is proud to support the growing coffee industry in the central African nation of Rwanda through a long-standing relationship with a cooperative of hundreds of farmers in the country’s southern region.

Coffee has played a pivotal role in the recovery of Rwanda’s economy since the genocide and civil war of 1994 devastated the country and the agricultural industry that much of the population depends on for their livelihoods. The industry has grown at a substantial clip over the past decade, with coffee again becoming one of the country’s leading exports. The government estimates that about 400,000 families are involved in coffee production.

Community Coffee made the connection with Rwandan producers back in 2002 through the Partnership for Enhancing Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages (PEARL), a U.S.-backed program created to promote agricultural initiatives in the war-torn nation.

PEARL, which was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and led by researchers at Michigan State University and Texas A&M University, working with Rwandan organizations, invited several U.S. coffee companies to Rwanda to discuss how farmers could take better advantage of the country’s ideal conditions for coffee production. The program helped jump-start an industry that continues to grow today as consumers become more aware of the region’s high-quality coffee, known for a natural sweet fruity flavor and rich body.

One of the success stories of the program has been the growth of the Abahuzamugambi Ba Kawa cooperative — commonly called the Maraba co-op — which was founded by 300 small farmers in the Maraba region in southern Rwanda and developed the nation’s first specialty coffee. It has since grown into a group of 1,500 producers, most of which are subsistence farmers who rely on the sale of their coffee for 70 percent of their income.

Mark Howell, general manager for Community Coffee’s Green Coffee and Tea Department, said the quality of the coffee from the area was evident from the early days of the co-op, so Community Coffee decided to pay a premium over market price.

“It was actually a fantastic coffee and they were doing good processing, so we started that relationship back then of buying the coffee, and we’ve been buying every year from them,” Howell said. “Since that time we started paying a premium for that coffee.”

Community Coffee purchases about 40,000 pounds a year from the cooperative. While that represents a tiny fraction of its overall coffee purchases, the Rwandan product is a key component in several Private Reserve blends, including the Founder’s Blend, created by fourth-generation owner Matt Saurage in honor of his great-grandfather and Community Coffee founder Cap Saurage.

After PEARL, coffee again became one of the Rwanda’s major crops, with revenue growing annually at 30 percent per year from 2002 to 2006. The Maraba co-op has helped implement numerous social programs in the region, which is one of the poorest in Rwanda. These include health education sessions for women, health insurance assistance and scholarships for the children of members.

“It’s a really good program, and Community Coffee believes in long relationships,” Howell said. “If we form a relationship like this, we’re committed to it. It’s a great direct-trade program. They’ve always brought good quality coffee, and we really strongly believe in the co-op."