Coffee and Reconciliation in Rwanda
By Ging Ledesma
In the Rusizi district of south-west Rwanda, Jean Bosco Ngabonziza, a nurse fondly known as ‘Nurse Bosco’, is a well-known and well-respected member of his community. After the 1994 genocide, he found himself surrounded by many widows and orphans living in extreme poverty. After a visit to India he had the idea of organizing coffee farmers into a cooperative. In 2006 he set up the first coffee washing station.
Nurse Bosco also established a coffee export company, Rusizi Specialty Coffee (RSC), which operates with a cooperative partnership business model. With its temperate climate the Rusizi district is ideal for coffee production and almost a quarter of all households in the district are coffee growers. Today RSC processes more than 200 tons of coffee beans per year.
I recently visited Oikocredit’s Rwanda office in the capital Kigali and travelled to Karongi and Rutsiro to meet Nurse Bosco and see RSC, which is a special operation in many ways.
Rwanda is rated by the World Bank as one of the world's 10 most-improved economies with a GDP growth rate at an average of more than 7% since 2000, but 44.9% of the population still lives below the poverty line. Businesses like RSC are helping smallholder farmers generate better incomes. A large proportion of the members of the coffee farming cooperatives supplying RSC’s washing stations own only around half a hectare of land each and 95% of RSC’s casual labour force are women.
RSC is also renowned for the solid relationship it has built with the community in which it operates. Services it has provided to local farmers include the construction of a nursery school, scholarships for girls from the poorest families and the distribution of cows to disadvantaged households.
But there is something else about RSC. On the steep green slopes and in the cool dark sheds, the people processing the coffee cherries, working together, side-by-side, are people from both sides of the genocide, both survivors and perpetrators. By bringing these people together, RSC is contributing to the ongoing reconciliation of Rwanda’s people, a long and ongoing process, vital for ensuring continued peace and security.
During my visits to partners I am frequently struck by the benefits that businesses supported by Oikocredit can bring to their local communities. RSC is a good example of a partner making deep positive impact on people’s lives. Lifting people out of poverty will always be a priority for Oikocredit, however we must maintain a broad approach to ‘development finance plus’ if we are to achieve our vision.
Rusizi is currently undergoing Rainforest Alliance certification, which is expected to finish before the end of 2015.