Marie Bedabasingwa

  • Country
    Rwanda
  • Province
    Northern Province
  • District
    Gakenke District
  • Sector
    Ruli Sector
  • Variety
    Red Bourbon
  • Processing
    Fully Washed
  • Washing Station
    Ruli Washing Station
  • Farm Altitude
    1,960m above sea level
  • Owner
    Marie Bedabasingwa
  • Dukunde Kawa Awards
    Cup of Excellence 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2018

Bright, lifted acidity, with white nectarine, green apple and plum. Vibrant and juicy, with great clarity and length.

It is extremely rare to be able to get a coffee that is traceable back to a single producer in Rwanda, so we feel extremely fortunate to be able to share this special 1200kg lot from Marie Bedabasingwa.

Most of the coffees we source from Rwanda are traceable back to a washing station, or sometimes a farmer group. Most washing stations in Rwanda receive cherry from hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of farmers who own very small plots of land – on average less than a quarter hectare, with just 300-600 coffee trees. Separation of such tiny lots is expensive and impractical, so the large majority of coffees are processed as a mixed lot from multiple producers. Typically, lots are separated as day lots (ie. cherries that were all picked on the same day) rather than by a single farm or producer group.

Single producer micro-lots like this one are extremely rare, especially from such a small producer (Marie owns 600 trees). One of the reasons that is because Marie is a member of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative, who own their own dry mill where they can process smaller lots individually, whilst minimising cost and maintaining excellent quality standards.

Marie is 65 years old and has worked in coffee for decades. In 1994 she was widowed during the horrific Rwandan Genocide and faced with the responsibility of caring for her five surviving children. Coffee has played a large part in her journey to rebuild her life and gain a steady income to support her family. Today, she owns 600 coffee trees and has recently planted another 50 coffee seedlings.

ABOUT RULI WASHING STATION

Marie’s coffee is processed at nearby at Dukunde Kawa’s Ruli washing station.

Ruli was established in 2003 and is the largest of Dukunde Kawa’s washing stations. It serves as the head office for the cooperative’s management team and the site also encompasses the cooperative’s dry mill and its dairy operations. The washing station sits at 1,920 meters above sea level, overlooking a beautiful landscape of rolling green hills and rich, red earth. 836 of Dukunde Kawa’s members delivery cherry to Ruli, which employs 29 permanent staff and increases by almost 200 seasonal staff during the harvest period.

The area surrounding Ruli has mineral-rich soil and a lush environment that is well suited to specialty coffee production. Typically, farms are situated between 1,800 to 2,100 meters above sea level. Coffee is grown as a cash crop, alongside subsistence food crops like maize, beans and sorghum and some livestock like goats and chickens. Cows are also an important asset to a farming family. Besides having practical advantages – like providing milk and yoghurt to feed the family, producing excellent manure for the coffee farms, and being an opportunity for additional income – they are also a traditional symbol of wealth and status in Rwanda.

Quality control and day to day operations at Ruli are overseen by Emerthe Muakurigo, who has been the washing station manager since 2014. Ruli has recently become Rainforest Alliance certified, UTZ certified, and Fair Trade certified. These certifications help the growing cooperative find different markets for the coffee. “We were already doing a lot of the things that were required for these certifications”, Isaac (the executive secretary of the cooperative at the time) explained, “We are always trying to be the best cooperative we can be. Getting the certifications has helped highlight what we are doing well and helped us raise our standards in other areas”.

ABOUT THE DUKUNDE KAWA COOPERATIVE

The Dukunde Kawa Cooperative was established in 2000 and built its first washing station, Ruli, three years later, with the help of a development loan from the Rwandan government. The cooperative was resourced and supported by the USAID-funded Partnership for Enhancing Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages (PEARL) program. This transformational program was aimed at switching the historical focus of the Rwandan coffee sector from quantity to one of quality. In doing so, it opened Rwanda up to the far higher-earning specialty coffee market. The program and its successor, Sustaining Partnerships to Enhance Rural Enterprise and Agribusiness Development (SPREAD), have been invaluable in helping Rwanda’s small-scale coffee farmers rebuild their production in the wake of the devastating 1994 genocide and the 1990s world coffee crash.

Dukunde Kawa owns three washing stations. In addition to Ruli – which is the largest washing station and also serves as the cooperative’s headquarters – they own Mbilima and Nkara washing stations, which were both established in 2005 using profits from Ruli. As of 2020, the cooperative is led by President Celestin Mubera, and Cooperative Managing Director Ernest Nshimyimana.

Dukunde Kawa is a member-owned cooperative, made up of 1193 small-scale coffee producers. By becoming members of Dukunde Kawa, these farmers are able to process their cherries centrally and combine their small, individual harvest into volumes that are large enough for export.

 

Before the proliferation of cooperatives and centralised washing stations in Rwanda, small farmers sold semi-processed cherries on to a middleman, and the market was dominated by a single exporter. This commodity-focused system – coupled with declining world prices in the 1990s – brought severe hardship to farmers, some of whom abandoned coffee entirely. Today, it’s a different picture. Farmers who work with Dukunde Kawa have seen their income at least double, and the cooperative produces outstanding lots of coffee for us year after year.

Dukunde Kawa has been recognised in the Rwandan Cup of Excellence competition in years 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and most recently in the 2018 competition, winning 21st place.

To become a member of Dukunde Kawa, a coffee farmer must first submit a letter of interest, which is presented at the cooperative’s general assembly. The cooperative’s agronomist then visits the applicant’s farm, and the local cooperative members vote on the new membership. Once approved, the applicant pays a joining fee that, in turn, goes back into the cooperative.

Dukunde Kawa has a very transparent relationship with its members. Farmers receive their first payment for their coffees when they deliver fresh cherry to the cooperative owned washing station. The set price/kg rate is related to a minimum farmgate price set at the beginning of the harvest period by the Rwandan government, through the National Agriculture Export Development Board (NAEB). Dukunde Kawa members are paid fair prices above the minimum farmgate rate, which increase throughout the season according to quality and competition. Importantly, the farmers also receive a second payment after the coffee is sold, which is worked out according to the premiums the coffee attracted due to its quality and market competition.

In an effort to continuously assist members to improve the yield and quality of their coffees, the cooperative provides agronomy training and access to discounted fertilisers and organic pesticides. They have also established a training space at their headquarters and a model farm, which is used to demonstrate best practices in coffee farming.

In addition to the great work that the cooperative does with quality improvement and assurance, it also operates various social programs that greatly contribute to the livelihoods of its members. Assistance with school fees and medical insurance is provided and members also have access to a ‘Farmers Savings Account’ which provides a line of credit to assist with costs like health care, farming materials, domestic improvements and more.

WHAT MAKES THE DUKUNDE KAWA COOPERATIVE SO SPECIAL

‘Dukunde Kawa’ means ‘love coffee’ in Kinyarwanda (Rwanda’s official language). The name was chosen to symbolise the power of coffee as a means to improve the livelihood of small-scale farming families in rural communities.

One of the most impressive and defining things about Dukunde Kawa is their innovative and dynamic approach. We have been working with this cooperative since 2008 and every time we visit, we’re blown away by the new investments and advancements implemented to improve the lives of its members and their families, and to ensure the highest quality of coffee possible is produced.

For example, in 2015 the cooperative built a dry mill at Ruli washing station. This sort of infrastructure is usually only found in the urban centre of Rwanda’s capital city, Kigali. It is a significant and commendable investment – not only does this mean the coffee does not have to travel to Kigali to be prepared for export, but it also gives the cooperative more control during the milling and preparation of the coffee and allows for more micro-lot separation and experimentation.

Additionally, the cooperative has invested in many initiatives to improve the overall income for its members and their families. In 2016 they built a dairy refrigeration facility to help generate off-season income for the members through the sales of dairy products like yoghurt, cheese and milk. This program also benefits the community as these products are now available to its families, which in turn helps improve the nutrition and health of the people. Plus, cow manure is a very useful fertiliser for coffee trees! In 2019 Dukunde Kawa installed a pasteurisation machine with the help of MCM and the Australian coffee community. This investment has enabled the farmers to sell their milk to the local hospital and further afield in Kigali for higher prices.

In 2019 Dukunde Kawa also opened a community room for the 289 female members of their cooperative, who form a smaller group within Dukunde Kawa, called Rambagira Kawa. This was a joint project between Dukunde Kawa and MCM, and the objective was to create a space where the women could gather to create handicrafts (another important source of revenue outside of coffee production) and, even more importantly, connect and support each other (many of the members lost family or partners in the genocide). Currently, over 200 women use the space, and they love it. “We share our learnings amongst each other, so we can provide opinions from one to another … our solidarity is something we can build on”, says Odette Murekate, the leader of the women’s group.

HOW COFFEE AT DUKUNDE KAWA IS PROCESSED

The team at Dukunde Kawa takes a huge amount of care in processing its coffee. All members of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative are trained to only select ripe coffee cherries from their trees.

  • On delivery, the cherries are inspected and sorted by hand to ensure only the very ripest cherries are processed. They are then sorted by weight (and any floaters are removed) by a Pinhalense machine that the washing station staff affectionately have named the ‘Umupolisi’ (police person). They are then pulped on the same day – usually in the evening – using a mechanical pulper that divides the beans into three grades by weight, with the heaviest, A1, usually having the highest cup quality.
  • After pulping, the coffee is fermented overnight for around 12–18 hours and then graded again using floatation channels that sort the coffee by weight. The beans are then soaked for a further 24 hours, before being moved to raised screens for ‘wet sorting’ by hand.
  • As with most washing stations in Rwanda, women do the majority of hand-sorting. This takes place in two stages – on the covered pre-drying tables and on the drying tables. Washed beans are moved from the wet fermentation tanks onto the pre-drying tables, where they are intensively sorted under shade for around six hours. The idea is that greens (unripe beans) are still visible when the beans are damp, while the roofs over the tables protect the beans from the direct sunlight.
  • Next, the beans are moved onto the washing station’s extensive raised drying tables (‘African beds’) for around two weeks, where they are sorted again for defects, turned regularly and protected from rain and the midday sun by covers, ensuring both even drying and the removal of any damaged or defective beans. During this period the coffee is also turned several times a day by hand to ensure the coffee dries evenly and consistently.

After reaching 11% humidity, the coffee is then transported to Dukunde Kawa’s purpose-built warehouse prior to final dry-milling and hand sorting at the cooperative’s dry mill.

We feel so lucky to work with Dukunde Kawa. When we first started working with the cooperative over a decade ago, the president at the time, Anastase Minani, explained that their goal was to be the very best cooperative in Rwanda. We think they’re well on their way to achieving this goal, and we are excited to have been able to share this journey with them.

WHY WE LOVE IT

This is the second year that we have purchased Marie’s coffee, after we fell in love with it whilst cupping in Rwanda in 2019. We have purchased the entire 1200kg line and are excited to continue working with Marie in the future and as she grows her business further. This year’s lot is vibrant and juicy, with green apple, plum and a lengthy finish.