July 31, 2015

Dukunde Kawa Cooperative, Rwanda: Enabling 1400+ Farmers to Double Their Income


Dukunde Kawa Cooperative in Rwanda reminds us that coffee is about more than that delicious taste or caffeine buzz. It’s also about changing lives. A good cooperative can cause communities to thrive. In Dukunde Kawa, farmers have seen their income more than double to reflect their high cup scores. In fact, their coffee from the Ruli washing station won 8th place in the 2014 Cup of Excellence. Yet coffee farms can’t drive this change alone; it’s the relationship between farms and coffee sourcers that do that. In this case, that’s the relationship between Market Lane of Melbourne, Australia, and Dukunde Kawa.

SEE ALSO: The History of Rwandan Coffee & The Story Behind Epiphanie Muhirwa

The Dukunde Kawa Cooperative is located in the town of Musasa, 70km from the Kigali capital of Rwanda, in the Northern district (formerly Ruashashi district). A cooperative born in 2000 from two farmer associations, its initial member base was 300. Now, it has grown to 1400+ members. With the assistance of a development loan from the Rwandan government and the support of the PEARL project, Dukunde Kawa established their first washing station in Ruli, in 2003. Then in 2005, they built a washing station in Mbilima, and two years later, another in Nkara.

So where does Market Lane come in? Well, prior to cooperatives like Dukunde Kawa, small-scale farmers would sell semi-processed coffees to middle men who had a monopoly over the export market. This encouraged a commodity-focused system of coffee which, in combination with a decline in world prices in the 1990s, led to hardship for farmers. Some were even pushed to abandon coffee.

Yet Dukunde Kawa radically changed the economy of coffee farming in Musasa. All its members are small-scale farmers but, by combining their harvests, they have enough cherries to deal directly with sourcers instead of middle men. They began selling to Market Lane six years ago, and with that profit, they’ve continued to grow.

I chatted with Market Lane’s Jenni Bryant to learn more about her recent trip to Dukunde Kawa.

African woman carrying coffe on her head.

 Coffee production is hard work! Dukunde Kawa has around 1,400 members with around 40% women and 60% men. Credit: Jenni Bryant

How did the relationship between DK and ML begin?

Market Lane’s relationship with Dukunde Kawa started in 2009 and I started traveling there annually to source in 2013. Before me, Market Lane’s co-founder and director Fleur Studd had spent a lot time developing the relationship with this great cooperative. Dukunde Kawa is supported and managed with so much motivation and creativity—they are continually striving to improve coffee quality as well as the livelihood of their members and their members’ families.

Coffee workers

Here we were checking out the developing site of the Dukunde Kawa dry mill. Since last years visit the dry mill has been installed and is now in use. Credit: Jenni Bryant

Can you tell me about your recent trip to DK?

Our trips to Rwanda have two main goals. One is to positively and mutually develop our relationships with the people that we work with, from small grower farmers to the quality control cuppers in the labs. Our other objective to is to taste—and purchase—the most delicious coffees from the recent harvest.

Visiting the Dukunde Kawa washing stations means waking up early to travel by car from the capital, Kigali, to the Northern province. These drives are always quite special and full of insight, as they are valuable times for talking to the directors of the cooperatives. It’s during these casual conversations that you hear about the successes and challenges from the harvest. Here we are also able to give some feedback about the previous year’s coffee. Time at the washing stations consists of talking to the many people that work there—managers, farmers, agronomist, sorters, etc.

We always have a long conversation with Minani, Dukunde Kawa’s President, and Isaac, the Ruli/Musasa washing station manager. These two guys are so dynamic and driven. They are a big part of why the co-op is strong.

These visits are so important; they are what gives us first hand experience. They help us to understand the health of the cooperative, the culture, and the people responsible for the delicious coffees that we fall in love with.

After these day trips, we spend a lot of time in the cupping (or tasting) lab in Kigali. We taste a lot of fresh coffees with the co-op’s quality control tasters, Eugenie and Emerthe, to identify the very best quality from the recent harvest. We score the coffees and talk about their distinctive flavor profiles. During these times, we also catch up with Eugenie and Emerthe on their perspectives on the season based on the coffee’s taste.

man on a motorbike in Africa

Minani is the dynamic President of Dukunde Kawa cooperative. Here he shows us a small farm next to the Ruli washing station where he teaches farmers best agronomy practices. Credit: Jenni Bryant

Have you seen DK change since you started working with them?

Absolutely! The developments have been significant. Dukunde Kawa continues to get stronger each year. Income for producers have increased, there has been a lot of investment in machinery & infrastructure, and the co-op has increased coffee quality and quantity. Also, the cooperative has worked fiercely to improve the livelihood of its members. For example, a milk pasteurization machine has been installed to provide off-season income for farmer members (Coffee is seasonal so finding other sources of income is essential). In regards to infrastructure, the cooperative has invested in the building of classroom (where co-op meetings and agronomy trainings are held), a dry mill, cupping lab and storage space. Having these types of resources in rural Rwanda, and at a single cooperative, is incredibly rare and really exciting—both for the members of the cooperatives and for overall coffee quality!

coffee workers

Manager of the Ruli washing station, Isaac is incredibly driven. He hopes for Dukunde Kawa to be the healthiest cooperative in Rwanda. Credit: Jenni Bryant

Has the potato defect had a significant impact on Rwanda?

Over the past two years, potato defect levels have decreased significantly and we don’t know exactly why. There has been a focus on reducing the occurrence of the defect by doing a number of things including the increase of sorting at the cherry, parchment and green coffee stages, and also the increased use of organic pesticides. We don’t know definitively that these methods will reduce the defect for good, but it seems that the combination of these things have had a large impact on recent harvests. For the first time last year the Rwandan government has been involved in researching the defect; hopefully this involvement will help us to understand and eliminate the defect.

The defect has affected Rwanda in regards to the global perception of the quality of Rwandan coffee. It seems as though some roasters have avoided buying Rwandan coffee for their espresso blends. But this is changing quickly as roasters have come to appreciate the value and quality of Rwandan coffee. It’s helpful for people to know that specialty coffee has been a main driver of economic growth in Rwanda since the genocide in 1994. With this in mind, it’s easy to understand how avoiding Rwandan coffee altogether can have a tragic effect on the growing Rwandan economy. Of course on the flip side of this relationship is the fact that when we do buy coffee from Rwanda (in meaningful, sustainable ways), our purchases can have a deep and powerful effect on their developing economy.

Edited by T. Newton with special thanks to Jenni Bryant from Market Lane.

Perfect Daily Grind.