Mbilima Organic

  • Country
  • Province
    Northern Province
  • District
    Gakenke District
  • Sector
    Coko Sector
  • Variety
    Red Bourbon
  • Processing
    Fully Washed
  • Washing Station
  • Washing Station Altitude
    2,020m above sea level
  • Farmers
    274 of the 1,192 Dukunde Kawa Cooperative members
  • Owner
    Dukunde Kawa
  • Awards
    Cup of Excellence 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2018

Intensely sweet, with a creamy body. Brown sugar, maple syrup, raisin, grilled pineapple and chocolate.

This beautiful coffee comes from the Mbilima washing station, which is owned by the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative. The washing station is located in the rugged northwest in the town of Musasa. It sits at around 2,020 metres above sea level, making it one of Rwanda’s highest washing stations. Musasa is close to the famous Virunga National Park, and this part of the world has mineral-rich soil and a lush environment that is well-suited to specialty coffee.

Dukunde Kawa owns three washing stations. In addition to Mbilima, they own another small washing station called Nkara, and a larger washing station called Ruli. The cooperative has nearly 1,200 active contributing members, 21% of whom are female farmers. Mbilima was built in 2005 with the profits earned from Dukunde Kawa’s first washing station, Ruli.


The Dukunde Kawa Cooperative was established in 2000. Three years later, it built its first washing station, Ruli, with the help of a development loan from the Rwandan government and the support of 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.

All of Dukunde Kawa’s members are small-scale producers who typically own less than a quarter of a hectare of land each. They use this land to cultivate an average of 300-600 coffee trees, along with other subsistence food crops such as maize and beans. By selling their coffee to Dukunde Kawa, these farmers are able to process their cherries centrally and combine their harvests into quantities large enough for export.


To become a member of Dukunde Kawa, a coffee farmer first submits 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.

Before the proliferation of cooperatives and 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.

Dukunde Kawa has a very transparent relationship with its members. They pay a fixed rate at the start of the harvest for coffee delivered to the station, and then reward all farmers with a second payment later in the season. This second payment is based on any additional profits they have been able to secure from lots that have sold for higher than expected prices.

In an effort to continuously help their members improve the quality of coffee produced, the cooperative provides agronomy training, and have also built classrooms, as well as a model farm that is used to demonstrate best practices in coffee farming. The cooperative also provides its members with access to fertilisers and organic pesticides.

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 their members. Assistance with school fees and medical insurance is provided, along with training in quality and productivity in cultivation of coffee. In addition they have set up a ‘Farmers Savings Account’ which provides a line of credit for farmers needing access to funds for things like health care, farming materials, domestic improvements and more.



Dukunde Kawa is a highly creative and dynamic cooperative. We have been working with this cooperative since 2008, and every time we visit, we’re impressed by the new investments and improvements implemented by the cooperative to improve the lives of its members and their families, and to produce the best quality coffee possible.

‘Dukunde Kawa’ means ‘love coffee’ in Kinyarwanda (Rwanda’s official language), symbolising the power of coffee as a means to improve the lives of those in rural communities.

For example, in 2014, the cooperative built a dry mill at their Ruli washing station. Owning a dry mill is very rare in rural Rwanda – this sort of infrastructure is usually found only in the urban centre of Kigali. It is a significant and commendable investment, and a great example of the cooperative’s commitment to produce high quality coffee. The dry mill has given them more control over the processing and has also allowed for more micro-lot separation and experimentation.

In addition, the cooperative has invested in many initiatives to improve the quality of life for their members. In 2016 they built a milk-refrigeration facility to help generate off-season income for farmers and their families. Farmers are able to supplement their income through the sales of milk, and the community benefits as it is able to access fresh milk and cheese, which in turn helps improve their health and wellbeing. Plus, their cows produce very useful fertiliser for the coffee! In 2019, the cooperative also invested in 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 female members of their cooperative. 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 opinion from one to another … our solidarity is something we can build on”, says Odette Murekate, the leader of the group.


By Rwandan standards, the Mbilima washing station is quite small, representing only 274 local producers in the area. Three permanent staff and 120 seasonal workers are employed by the washing station – of whom 95% are women.

Quality control and day-to-day operations are overseen by John Bosco Habimana, who has been the washing station’s manager since 2012. Mbilima has recently become 100% organic, Rainforest Alliance certified, UTZ certified, and Fair Trade certified. John Bosco explained that becoming certified has been extremely useful in formalising and documenting a lot of things that the cooperative was already doing. “It has helped us to better the lives of our producers and quality of our coffee. It’s been a lot of work to get the certifications,” he explained, “but it also made us realise how many positive things we were already doing. The certifications reinforce this.” 


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 the very ripest 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 –  almost always in the evening.– using a mechanical pulper that divides the beans into three grades by weight (with the heaviest – A1 – usually being the best).
  • 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 so excited to have been able to share this journey with them.