First time in The Land of a Thousand Hills
Our plane is landing in Kigali and we're eagerly watching the ever nearer small-scale farms, swamps nested in the valleys and well maintained houses with proper terracotta roofs. There's a tiny bump, and now we're braking along the only runway of the country's international airport. We're coming full of expectations, not when it comes to coffee, but also the legendary landscape and all the other things we had ever heard of or read about.
The first rumor gets fulfilled immediately - Rwanda is indeed clean. Ten years ago, not only that disposable plastic bags were banned, but there were also huge fines introduced for littering. The result is (excluding truly remote areas) a completely litter-free country, which is a huge inspiration for not only developing countries.
But let's get back to coffee. The first company which invited us to Rwanda is IMPEXCOR, a family business which started in the 90s when a farmer decided to start his own washing station. His sons now own several stations, bring together local farmers and market and export their coffees. After a pleasant introductory meeting and a discussion of our future cooperation, we can look forward to several action-packed days with the energetic and always optimistic Audace and Gigi, who will guide us through their stations in southwestern Rwanda.
There, we finally have the chance to see and experience the system of small-scale farming of coffee in Africa and the processing of coffee in common washing stations. We're very nicely surprised by how obvious it is here to handle waste water properly, filtering it through the soil in special ditches and reusing fermented pulps as fertilizer. We have the chance to talk to the stations’ managers and through them with the farmers as well. We're asking about their work, the problems they face and the things they are proud of. In return, we answer questions about our goals and expectations. We really appreciate the interest with which they listen to us, while they are genuinely asking difficult questions themselves. There’s a sincere applause after we remind them that we are just as dependent on their work and coffee as they are on us buying it.
On top of this, the roads leading to the stations (and also the motivation of our two guides) take us to breathtaking places. And so, we have the beautiful opportunity to enjoy sunsets over the surface of lake Kivu, see DR Congo across the rapids on river Rusizi, watch villages in Burundi across perfectly tilled valleys, drive through the heart of Nyungwe rainforest or simply enjoy the all in all beautiful scenery of the rightfully nicknamed Land of a Thousand Hills.
Our meeting culminates with a cupping in a lab in Kigali, where we have a chance to taste their coffees from all over Rwanda. On top of that, we can also try coffee from their partner companies Muraho and Baho, which operate in different parts of the country. These are introduced to us by Emmanuel, an energetic businessman, an expert in coffee and a man in the right place. We can't but wonder what an amazing diversity of tastes one can find in such a small country as Rwanda. The sunbathed shores of Kivu with their tastes of garden fruits, the foothills of Nyungwe and their notes of florals and refreshing fruits, tastes of citruses and tropical fruits in coffees from the arid highlands or flavours of berries such as elderberry, rowanberry, sea buckthorn or cranberry from the covers of the Virunga - Rwanda can offer all of this, and soon, in her name, we will too.
The second partner we have in Rwanda is Unguka Muhinzi, which translates as Farmer's Benefit from Kinyarwanda. A company from the southwestern district is Kirehe, started by an easy-going farmer named Jeremie, who decided to start his own cooperative, has grown to own three coffee washing stations in the recent years. To visit the first and biggest of them, we are invited by Jean Luc, a very friendly person and the brain behind marketing the cooperative and finding fair buyers. We are welcomed by a party tent full of farmers, where we have the opportunity to hear a speech and again exchange words and impressions with the farmers. We are especially honored to visit this cooperative, add the initiative to improve the quality and responsible farming came from the very bottom - a single farmer. We sincerely hope that we won't be disappointed by the coffee at the cupping tomorrow.
And we definitely aren't! The taste is very intensely and pleasantly sweet complemented by floral tastes of jasmine and aromatic green tea - through which the coffees from the slopes falling towards the lake Victoria perfectly expand our Rwandan portfolio. We're very happy to see that in such a short time, such great coffee can arise from the motivation of people at the very bottom of the coffee chain.
As a goodbye to Rwanda, we decide to make a private trip to the north, to the lake Burera and under the chimneys of Virunga. The welcoming view of the Virunga’s mountaintops looming above the tea ragged shores of lake Burera is truly spectacular. But the rest, honestly, less so. The cleanliness hasn't really reached these parts yet, and the locals’ mentality is strongly influenced by the tourist industry. The determination of the people to get some money from the visiting Muzungu knows no limits. And the last nail in the coffin is a closer look at the volcano.
Only now we can see the boundary of the national park, clearly identified by a straight line halfway to the top, dividing the dark green mass of the rainforest from the beginning of farms, fields and orchards. The gorillas can only enjoy the absolute minimum which lets them survive and lets the tourist operators show the gorillas to crowds of visitors daily. On the other hand, it is remarkable that, despite the incredible population pressure, the gorillas are still around. And, having the meetings with all the amazing business partners and responsible farmers in mind, we believe that this mentality will soon penetrate all of the country.
Personally, Rwanda has left strong impressions on us. In some ways, we were disappointed, but in many it has exceeded our expectations. We were pleasantly surprised by the motivation and determination of the people to go firmly towards the future despite the troubles of the past. Professionally, we were impressed. It is hard to believe the variety of tastes Rwanda has to offer, and we love the farmers audacity to improve their harvest and secure a better future for themselves and their children. We hope and believe that we will not fail them and that we can be strong partners to them.
We are almost sad that we need to visit other countries, as we'd love to share the coffees and experiences with you immediately. Nevertheless, Tanzania is next in line, so stay tuned and soon you'll find out how successful we were there.