Sunday, May 31, 2015

34. Field Notes 11: Women in Coffee in Rwanda -- Leading in the Office and on the Farm

May 27, 2015
It would be hard to capture all that I learned about gender issues and the important roles women are playing in coffee in Rwanda. Rather than try and bore everyone with a not-fully-thought-out conclusion, I will just share the laundry list of women and programs I encountered and let you begin to draw your own conclusions and ask new questions.

Women Leading Companies in Rwanda:
  1. Immy KAMARADE - Managing Director, Kirisimbi Coffee
  2. Epiphane MUKASHYAKA (and her son) - Owner, BUF Coffee
  3. Maggie UMIMBABISA (and her daughter) - Managing Director, Sacof
  4. Angelique KAREKEZI - Managing Director, Rwashoscco
  5. Therese Karitanyi - General Manager, Agropharm - now AgroPy
  6. Ramya Waran, Director of Operations, KZ Noir
  7. Anne Marie KANTENGWA, CEO, Hotel Chez Lando 
Women Farmers:
6 of my 10 interviews were with women farmers. I also got to meet the wife of the farmer I interviewed at GIFT washing station and the two women at BUF who were interviewed by my partner, Grace. Altogether got to talk with 8 or 9 female farmers. Each of these women are business owners and managers, too -- they are in the farm business.
  1. Shy female farmer interviewed near BUF
  2. Female picker near Rutasira (built a house by saving her wages for a season)
  3. Huye Mtn "mom" with 5 kids
  4. Farm mom with bad foot
  5. Wife & mom in the "collector couple"
  6. Farmers/pickers (2) near Kigufi
Sustainable Harvest - Bloomberg -- building washing stations for women's cooperatives and providing a year-long training and leadership program.
Abakundekawa -- has a women's program where the women grow and sell, and keep the profits from, their coffee trees.

Government and Academia:
  • University of Rwanda also has launched a new masters program on gender-sensitive Agri-business.  Both men and women can apply. The first 40 students are starting Fall 2015.
  • Gerardine Mukeshimana is Rwanda's new Minister of Agriculture

Friday, May 29, 2015

33. Field Notes 10: Two organic washing stations

May 27 and 28, 2015
We visited two organic washing stations, Abakundekawa on May 27 and Kigufi on May 28. For both, I happened to have a personal connection to the consumer end of the supply chain -- Zingerman's Coffee Co. (in Ann Arbor, MI) is a customer of Abakundekawa and on May 29, in Kigali, we visited the restaurant and cafe run by Kigufi's owner, Jean Pierre Savageni. There I was able to taste freshly roasted Kigufi organic, single-estate coffee. Fantastic!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

32. Field Notes 9: Maraba Washing Station - where it all started

Monday, May 25 - PM
Maraba Washing Station

I believe Maraba is Rwanda's "first" washing station.  If it is not technically Rwanda's first, it is certainly the first in spirit. It was built by the PEARL project, 2003 - 2006, which was a ground-breaking milestone in global coffee, not just Rwandan coffee, because it showed how a multi-disciplinary value chain approach can be implemented with a high degree of success. The "success" being that this country that had 0 (zero) washing stations prior to 2003 now has 240. The project launched a movement, you might say.

I only have my own suspicions about what contributed to this success. It was not one person or one organization, it was a team of highly motivated and very gifted actors who worked very hard under the auspicies of supportive government policies. But it is also not inconsequential that the leader of the program had very deep ties and many years of experience in Rwanda, as well as the academic stature and unique, highly developed field research skills. I'm speaking of Dan Clay, a professor at Michigan State University who spends about a third of each year on the ground in Africa, doing field research. Full disclosure, he also happens to be my academic advisor, so I'm biased.

Today Maraba needs revitalization. It's equipment appears to be in disrepair, the atmosphere among the workers did not seem upbeat, the reputation of the washing station among farmers was not great. I interviewed farmers in May 2015 who were walking past Maraba with their cherry in order to go to a different washing they felt "served them better."  But Maraba is in operation and achieving huge volumes of beautiful coffees and we saw farmers delivering amazingly beautiful red cherry. They have the large number of fermentation tanks you see below, which enables sorting and tracking of lots beyond what smaller stations can manage.

I see a bright future for Maraba and Rwandan coffee in general!

Monday, May 25, 2015

31. Field Notes 8: Five farmer interviews - similarities and differences

May 28, 2015 --
Learnings from five farmer interviews

My objective in interviews for this second week of our trip was to focus more on the choice between the ordinary (semi-washed) and the fully washed market. "What factors are driving farmers' decisions to choose one over the other?" This question is explored in my "income" module and the "market choices" module in my survey instrument.
                                          Kigufi Estate in Rubavu - an organic coffee washing station

These interviews took place in three districts - Huye in the South, Gakenke and Rubavu in the North.

Things we learned:
  • Cherry prices in "South" this year tended to be 200 - 210 Rwf/kg cherry. In the north, the price was higher: 280 Rwf/kg cherry for direct delivery to the washing station. I was not able to get a definitive answer as to why the price was higher, but this kind of difference (70 - 90 Rwf) is a common range of variation in cherry prices throughout the country. The supply and demand situation is slightly different in each region. All must pay the "floor" price set by a committee on a weekly basis. At the time I was there, the floor price was 170 Rwf/kg cherry.
  • Prices for parchment, or "ordinary coffee', was in the 700 - 750 Rwf/kg parchment range. This "ordinary" coffee is the traditional way coffee has always been processed in Rwanda up until about 2003 when the PEARL project first started building washing stations. The ordinary process is a crude "grindstone" effort done at home and results in very low grade parchment. Conversion factors are usually between 7:1 (poor) to 5:1 (good) in Rwanda. Using 6:1, a 750 Rwf/kg parchment price converts to 125 Rwf/kg cherry.  In other words, a farmer is probably much better off to sell their cherry to the WS (for 200 Rwf or more) and not even have the work of processing at home.
  • Cherry vs. parchment differences: one of the interesting differences is that the farmer does not get any record, apparently, when they sell their parchment, whereas they all seem to have a "fiche", or document, on which each sale of cherry to a washing station gets recorded, along with the weight and the price paid.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

30. Field Notes 7: Huye Mountain -- the "Disney World" of Rwandan coffee

May 23, Saturday - Huye Mountain

          Everything well marketed for this 8500 tree plantation. David worked for SPREAD back in the day. Now he’s creating and growing David & Family Co.
·         Aloys was a skilled and knowledgeable tour guide. I felt like I could have been at Disney World or Epcot Center in Orlando, FL, because of Aloys' friendly smile, attention to customer service and the visual aids and detailed tour pre-planning that was obvious throughout the day.
·         The excellent reception area had an overview of value chain steps in Rwanda and a satellite map to show visitors where they will go on the tour.

The tour includes:
  • 5 stops (with signs) on the plantation.
  • Cultural legend at fantastic rock and look-out over valley
  • Hike to the picturesque mountain top where there is coffee served
  • Washing station – the station’s 4 – 5 customers are prominently advertised on signs on the buildings: Stumptown, Falcon Importers, UCC, etc.
  • Quality lab near the reception area. Smaller than Starbucks, but equally well equipped. Helpful samples of all stages of coffee processing in bowls on the table. Signage emphasizes ‘corporate heroes’ instead of coffee technical information. This was my first time to see the Korean ‘automatic sample roaster’, the shiny Strong Hold machine.
  • Customer evaluation/feedback forms were passed out at the end. Amazing!

Night delivery observation:
I met Aloys at the reception desk at 8pm, so we were at the washing station at 8:30pm. They were just finishing up a batch of cherry that had been delivered around 5 or7pm from collectors. They were anticipating more deliveries from collectors who come from further away. They arrived as planned and I was able to see the whole process of arrival and delivery.

Most important insights were in this coffee delivery area. Lots of standing around. Aloys explained it would be different if it was peak season and they were receiving lots of cherry. But I’m not 100% convinced. He said the staff is paid the same whether they work two hours or 8 hours. So it would seem to me that workers could be motivated to finish quickly and go home, especially on a Saturday night.

The surprising area of waste was the way they were diverting the triage as it came out of the “middle” of the de-pulping, de-mucilaging process. From what I could tell, many of the small and damaged beans would not get depulped on the first run through the depulp machine. So they are “caught” by the turning “drum” screen – depulped cherry goes through, and the ones that are still red get kicked out. The kicked-out red beans are caught in buckets – 9 buckets and barrels the night I was there, which accumulate around the machine. Once the first pass is done, a chain-gang of 3 workers passes the buckets of red cherry up to the guy at the top of the machine who dumps them into the depulper for a second pass. Batch processing and seems duplicative. Can’t be efficient. But apparently this is also not unusual. This is a modern Penagos machine and I have seen video of other washing stations that create a "second pass-thru" using manual labor very similarly.

Waste water:
Another surprise for me was the amount of waste water the washing process produces. I give credit to Aloys because he showed me the entire waste water system without me even asking. I think he is proud that David & Family have invested in a fairly sophisticated system, as he should be. But as we looked at the 100 meters of underground pipes that channel waste water from the station, and then lead to 11, (counted ‘em, 11!) ground tanks, each 7 m deep and 1 m square at the top, I couldn’t help but think there’s got to be a way to use less water. The depulping machine they have is one of the latest models from Penagos, though, so it’s not like they’re using outdated equipment. I don’t think the one they have is the “Eco” pulper, though. Mario says typical coffee depulping and fermenting uses 70 L of water per kg green coffee. He’s seen systems that get that number down to 7 L.

Value chain learning:
The signs co-promoting David & Family and his 5 key customers bring up the question for me of whether this model is very unique in Rwanda. How many customers do most washing stations have? Is there an ideal number and type? My hunch is that having and building these few long-term customer relationships has enabled Huye Mountain (David & Family Co.) to have some stability that is otherwise hard to achieve in a volatile coffee market. This stability enables them to focus on marketing details that are hard to "get to" when you're fighting to get every container sold.

So now the question remains -- does even Disney World have room to get lean?

Friday, May 22, 2015

29. Field Notes 6: Rutisara and the "short" 3 km hike

May 22 – Friday
Rutisira coffee washing station – President MUTANGANA Innocent

Rusitira has a small eco-pulper donated as part of a Technoserve project. Mario says this type of depulper is a realistic solution for a small “start-up” washing station because it uses much less water. The quality is obviously highly variable, though. There’s no real fermentation process. 

Evidence of waste – possibly:
I found wet parchment in tanks with lots of beans still having cherry skin on them, too. There was no good explanation for why this parchment was sitting damp in a tank, as if it had been there all morning and maybe all night. There was also pulp left on the ground at the end of the waste stream “chute” from the depulper. They had a manual depulper on-site for farmers to use to process ordinary, and it had cherry pulp waste surrounding it on the ground also. The drying tables were crudely built. The coop had built “everything themselves” so that may explain the condition, but the whole station had a kind of run down atmosphere about it.
It was a loooong 3 km hike from the washing station into the hills.

Farmer 1 – female picker
Value Chain insight from her were clues about the kinds of rules used to manage quality with pickers. If you break a branch, you get sent home for the day. You can come back the next day and try again. Pay is 700 Rwf per day (about $1). Stability of income is highly prized. The farmer emphasized that she appreciated being able to come back to work for this plantation owner year after year.

Farmer 2 – male farmer
This man seemed elderly and had severe eye problems, but he was very proud of his 600 trees and he was obviously still actively farming daily. Even more impressive was how proud he was of the rejuvenation he was doing on his trees. It seemed like he had stumped them (at least a portion of them) a few years ago and now he is about to stump another set. While he did not say this exactly, his enthusiasm for coffee comes at least partially from his understanding that he was able to earn more money in the long run, by pruning his trees. So he’s continuing with dedication to this cultivation method. However, he didn’t know his annual production in kg. One of the dangers of this farmer's uncertainty about his production is that it’s unfortunately possible that others steal from such farmers.

Farmer 2 showed us where and how he makes ordinary coffee. He has a special stone that is the shape of a small Frisbee. He crushes the cherry by placing it on the floor of the patio.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

28. Field Notes 5: BUF Coffee and a nearby collection site

May 21, 2015  -- BUF COFFEE  Nyarusiza

I’ve heard about BUF Coffee from numerous roasters’ blogs and from the pages of PEARL and SPREAD history. It seemed like a sign to me when I met Sam Nwitwe, the son of BUF’s owner Epiphane Mukashyaka, at SCAA Seattle in April. “Please visit,” he said. So I gave him a call.

Augustin, Grace and I took a Volcano bus from Huye to Kizi, where we switched to motos. The moto ride through the mountains on rutted dirt roads took about 30 minutes. Some of this way was so steep I was surprised the moto driver was able to keep the bike balanced.

Value Chain Insights
At the washing station there were 14 farmers assembled to talk to us. I only asked four basic questions: # of years as a farmer, # of trees and # of people from each person first. For the discussion question, “do you see a future in coffee?” there was one pessimistic and several optimistic answers.
Farmer meeting assembled at BUF Coffee

In the village we found one of the farmers again – the one who is also a site collector. I interviewed the young woman farmer who was at the site to deliver cherry. She was getting 200 Rwf and didn’t seem to know there was an option to deliver cherry for 210 Rwf by taking it up the hill to the CWS. She, like all the other farmers there, spent at least 20 – 30 minutes sorting cherry on the patio of the site collector’s building. She said there was never a better price for more quality cherry. She said all cherry had to be mature – no exceptions.

We talked to the site collector also, since he is also a farmer with many trees. Seemed like he was doing very well. Sells ordinary, too. He had a large bag of ordinary in the shop. He rents a hand depulper for making ordinary. He said a company goes around the country side renting these small machines to farmers.

At the washing station two things made me pause: the time farmers were spending sitting on the ground sorting cherry and manual removal of cherry from parchment after the coffee has come through a depulper. This scenario was especially strange because there was a person standing ankle-deep in wet parchment, in a tank, picking out the ones where the skins had failed to be removed by the depulper. The quality manager explained that they need to get them out because if they stay on during fermentation, it will taint the taste of the entire batch. I believe him. And I don't think BUF is unusual. The "result" after depulping at most washing stations is "red-spotted". But it still seems odd. Why can't the depulper more thoroughly remove all the pulp?

Another thing that made me not only pause, but made my mouth water, was the beautiful quality of cherry that farmers were delivering while we were there (see photos below).