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Tougher links make stronger chains: Strengthening coffee cooperatives in Rwanda

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 16:04

With Rwanda’s coffee being produced entirely by about 400,000 smallholder farmers, we knew that any intervention that improved income and employment in this sector would directly impact on poverty and the livelihoods of these farmers. Any efforts to transform producer groups into profi table cooperatives would also fi t well with government policy, which viewed such progress as critical to agricultural transformation.

At the time of intervention, coffee farmers already received varying levels of production and fi nancial support from government and other actors. We wanted to complement that support by boosting the managerial and technical capacity required to transform coffee washing stations into viable enterprises; and by improving the skills, systems and procedures of cooperative unions.

Through a value chain approach we addressed bottlenecks, strengthening the chain as a whole and supporting a quarter of Rwanda’s cooperative coffee washing stations—with demonstrable results. Today we work with 30 cooperatives that have coffee washing stations and 15 coffee unions, representing 69,000 coffee farmers. These cooperatives are now more profi table operations, producing higher quantities of better quality coffee. Some have also been awarded at the national Cup of Excellence, the world’s most esteemed competition for top quality coffees. Between 2007 and 2010, 30 SNV-supported coffee washing stations improved their turnover. Between 2009 and 2011, income from coffee per farmer per annum increased from USD 89 to USD 207. Women are participating more and making decisions alongside men. Most importantly we have changed a collective mindset—encouraging those we work with to move from a donor-centric view of development and embrace, instead, a more independent and entrepreneurial spirit.

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