partner stories

Rwanda - Karambi (2022)

Rwanda's coffee history begins in the 1930s with Belgian occupation. While coffee was introduced at a very small scale by German settlers in the preceding decades, the Belgian colonial government enacted laws requiring Rwandan farmers to plant large amounts of coffee while controlling prices and imposing export tariffs. In result, Rwanda's farmers earned very little for their coffee, and Rwanda developed a long-held reputation for producing large volumes of very low quality.

The genocide of 1994 happened to coincide with a global drop in coffee prices, leading Rwanda's coffee processing infrastructure to fall into a state of widespread disrepair. By 2000, Rwanda had barely any capacity to produce washed coffee, meaning almost everything that was produced was crude semi-washed or "ordinary" grade coffee.

Ten years later, Rwanda adopted a National Coffee Strategy that lowered trade barriers and eased restrictions on farmers, shifting the national focus to the production of specialty coffee—offering generally better and more stable prices than the volatile commodity market.

Our relationship with the Karambi Washing Station began in 2019. Its location in the Nyamasheke district has the highest concentration of washing stations in the country. This creates competition between stations, which means each station has to accept nearly everything delivered (to prevent producers from selling their coffee elsewhere with less hassle). After Karambi accepts deliveries, underripe fruit is removed through floatation before a dedicated, trained staff sorts what remains by hand.

Once received and sorted, Karambi's coffee follows a typical washed process. The coffee is depulped and partially mechanically demucilaginated. It is then fermented for 12 to 24 hours (depending on the weather) in concrete tanks to break down the remaining mucilage. The coffee is then passed through a washing and grading channel that uses floatation to sort it into five different grades based on density. Only the densest grade is destined for microlots (like this one).

Coffee production in Rwanda—and in much of East Africa—happens on an individually tiny scale. Some 400 producers deliver coffee to Karambi, delivering an average of 47 kilograms of fruit. Coincidentally, once processed and dried, this works out to about 47 pounds of finished green coffee per producer—about a single roasted batch on our Probat. (Put differently, our 25 bag lot represents the work of about 70 individual producers and their families.)

In partnership with Sucafina, and in addition to our normal price premiums, we've supported a farmgate initiative that provides secondary, direct payments to producers who deliver to Karambi. This improves cash flow to farmers in the months between harvest and increases farmers' access to banking.

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