Dec. 7, 2018
In Rwandan culture the woman is considered the heart of household and the family. The sentiment is based on the idea that once the heart is working well, everything in life is also working well. It's not surprising that many cooperatives in Rwanda have established sub-groups to support their female members. One is Ejo Heza, a sub-group of about 320 women who are also members of the larger Kopakama cooperative. With this post we'd like to share some of the details of how this kind of cooperative operates in case it's helpful for readers working elsewhere in Rwanda and the coffee world.
When combined, the factors below allow for contracts with higher prices, which means farmers can be paid more.
Customer Relationships: relationship with Artisan Coffee Imports, a small importer, with roaster customers who are passionate about ensuring their purchase of coffee is managed ethically, especially in terms of benefiting the farmers themselves. Artisan's customers have strict standards also. Communicating customer standards and creating ways to support economic improvements for the farmers is where Artisan's forte lies. In short, relationships between farmer and roaster are fostered and grown!
Partnerships: others like TWIN, IFAD, and ICS International Service have enabled the coop to receive training and linkages that would otherwise be difficult to secure. With each partnership, long-term support is critical. IFAD returned in August 2018 to do a 10 year evaluation of the impacts of their loan.
Farmer Field Schools: Kopakama, over time, has created 12 farmer field schools (FFS) to which it's close to 800 members belong. Three agronomists and the technical director, share the work of holding a FFS lesson once a month with each group. There is a program of ten topics which the agronomists bring to the farmers, at the point in the season that is relevant. For example, pruning is taught in June or July, the time that is recommended for cutting back branches.
Annual General Meeting: Kopakama holds an annual general meeting with all the farmers of the cooperative. At this meeting key messages, policies and strategies are shared with farmer-members and the 30 site-collectors employed by the cooperative. When possible, this is also the time that premiums and dividends are distributed.
Women's Group: Kopakama's leaders agreed in 2011 to provide targeted to support to a vulnerable section of their membership and community: women. They recognized the unique challenges women face and the value that more gender equity would bring to all members. The women's group "Ejo Heza" was formed and they were given about 1 ha of land near the Mushubati washing station. They work as a 'sub-cooperative' to cultivate and harvest the coffee on this land.