Hundreds of farmers trained, coffee exports up and an increase in bean quality … New film and report highlight success of Challenges’ flagship Rwandan Coffee Project

The Challenges Group
Feb 28 · 4 min read

Challenges’ flagship Rwandan Coffee Project has reached its halfway point. To mark this major milestone and to coincide with Fairtrade Fortnight, Challenges has released a new film about the project and published a report detailing the activity that has gone on during the past two and a half months.

In less than three years, Challenges and its project partners have trained more 800 co-op members and farmers while the eight participating co-operatives have all either increased their exports or started exporting. All co-ops have improved their coffee bean quality, earning the top-quality “speciality coffee” accolade, amid a wide range of additional benefits and improvements.

The co-ops involved are: Buhanga, Cocagi, Gisuma, Kigembe, Koakaka, Kopakaki, Kopakama and Sholi.

The story of the project is charted in the new film, The Perfect Balance, produced in partnership with the Scottish Fair Trade Forum and made by Glasgow social enterprise Media Co-op. The film, below, focuses on the improved quality of the Rwandan Fair Trade coffee and the connection with buyers and consumers here in Scotland.

Martha Mukakarangwa, President of Sholi co-op

President of the Sholi Co-operative, Martha Mukakarangwa, explains: “The training and investment has helped us a lot. Now whenever they go to harvest our pickers know how to select the right fruit to produce the highest grade of coffee for our cooperative. We also have ways to know exactly which coffee comes from which farmer.”

Glasgow-based roasters Matthew Algie have started importing the coffee. Their Q-grader, Estelle MacGilp features in the film “cupping” the Sholi coffee. “You’ve got the fruit mixed with the more syrupy, a hint of chocolate, just a nice mellow sort of creamy, milky chocolate. The quality is right up there and it’s consistent, which as a buyer is very important as well.”

Koakaka co-op members sorting the coffee beans.

As well as an increase on the project’s targets, the report also describes a stream of wider innovations and improvements, such as the formation of start-up enterprises through better access to finance, training to address gender-based violence, improved access to finance, installation of clean tech and water filtration systems, and the creation of youth networks that promote business skills and entrepreneurialism.

The five-year project, which is funded by the Scottish Government, is a superb example of how a collaborative international development project can have a significant positive impact.

Jenny Gilruth, the Scottish Government’s Minister for Europe and International Development, said: “Scotland has a proud history of international development. In policy and practice, we remain committed to building upon Scotland’s legacy of positive contributions that extend far beyond our own borders.

“I am delighted by the successes of Challenges’ Rwanda Coffee Project, which brings social and economic benefits to communities in Rwanda while forging new friendships and trading links with people in Scotland.”

Eoghan Mackie, chief executive of Challenges, said: “I am massively proud of the achievements of everyone involved in this project that is connecting communities in Scotland and Rwanda. As we look to COP 26 and the importance of hearing voices from those people on the front-line of climate change, this project aims to give these coffee co-operatives and their members a stronger, more equitable platform on the global marketplace. I think Scottish consumers in particular will respond heartily to that story, and be further cheered by the positive impact — socially, economically and environmentally — that the project as a whole is having.”

Martin Rhodes, chief executive of the Scottish Fair Trade Forum, said: “This Fairtrade Fortnight highlights the role of Fairtrade in prioritising gender equality and empowerment. The Rwandan Coffee project is an outstanding example of prioritising gender equality and empowerment.”

Watch the film here:

Download the report.

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