The Rwanda Project
Building the next generation of coffee farmers
The last few years has seen us evaluating our ways of working to ensure we are being as impactful as possible to contribute solutions towards some of the coffee industry's biggest challenges. Partnerships like those we have with Tropic Coffee in Rwanda are so valuable to us when it comes to ascertaining where we focus our support and the Cyato washing station was a natural choice for North Star's second origin project. Watch the video below to learn more.
Try coffees from Cyato Washing Station
The Cyato washing station employs a phenomenal team of coffee processing staff who utilise a range of techniques to extract the coffee beans from the delivered cherries. We are therefore able to showcase a range of processing methods and the impact these have on cup profile with a number of lots that are all the same varietal from the same region but that display different flavours thanks to the post-harvest technique applied.
How it all started?
We have been lucky to establish some incredible relationships with export partners over the last few years who help us to access some of the most amazing coffees. One such example is Tropic Coffee, a company we were introduced to when visiting Rwanda in 2018 as a member of the Cup of Excellence tasting jury. Tropic is headed up by Chris and his wife Divine - together, they own the Cyato washing station which processes the cherries collected by farmers of the Abadatezuka cooperative situated around the infamous Nyungwe forest – well known for outstanding coffee production not only because of its rich fertile soil, but also due to the large population of bees in the area which leave unique microorganisms during pollination creating a distinct flavour profile. The appreciation of the importance of bees in this area means there is no use of synthetic fertilisers or pesticides and farmers are actively educated on how to preserve the presence of pollinators utilising organic techniques.
Having established our Rwandan partnership as a key part of our offering, we commenced conversations with Chris and his team in 2021 to ascertain if there were any opportunities to deepen our impact. Happily, our wholesale partner Baltzersens (a coffee shop and bakery business based in Harrogate) wanted to be involved in these discussions too to direct funds they were collecting through a single-use cup levy towards any possible initiative. This coffee had been a key component in Baltzersen’s house blend since 2014 and Paul (the owner) wanted to play a more engaged role in this particular supply chain.
Whilst coffee was discovered as an indigenous plant growing in Ethiopia, it was introduced to other countries in the Tropics through colonialist settlers. It was through colonialism that coffee was turned into a major export, one that became reliant on cheap (slave) labour and that saw most of the profits being sent back to Europe to line the pockets of traders there.
In the case of Rwanda, historically, much of the country’s coffee was exported to Belgium following the League of Nations Mandate after World War I which stripped Germany of its colonial rule of Rwanda and handed it to the Belgians. It wasn’t until 1917 that the country had enough coffee to export, but production increased due to the law put in place in the 1930s which made coffee a compulsory crop. By the 1990s, coffee was Rwanda’s most important export but just as it was establishing itself as a credible coffee producing country, disaster struck in the form of the widely accepted colonial induced genocide in 1994 which claimed 800,000 lives in 100 days. This understandably had a massive impact on the coffee industry displacing thousands of farmers as a result of the conflict.
As the country recovered, coffee was to become an opportunity with much of the foreign aid and investment streaming into the country being put into establishing coffee infrastructure and promoting quality. Rwanda remains to be one of the only African countries to have hosted a Cup of Excellence competition and has attracted specialty buyers from all over the world. Sadly, neo-colonialist systems and structures have continued to de-value coffee with the global price determined by supply and demand and fuelled by investment bankers (the C Market).
As a result of hundreds of years of economic instability and increasing environmental volatility in recent times, the average age of the coffee producer has understandably reached 55-57 as more and more young people move out of the industry in search of more stable career options elsewhere. How do we reframe coffee as an attractive profession?
Chris outlined a need to bring more young people into the industry, many of whom were working in local mines for Chinese-based companies or who had migrated out of the region assuming there were better opportunities elsewhere. He identified an 8-hectare parcel of land that was currently being underutilised as a possible test farm to distribute coffee seedlings to youth in the area and essentially help get them started in the business of producing coffee.
In collaboration with Baltzersens, we therefore sponsored the preparation of the land to clear it and to plant out 20,000 coffee seedlings - the idea being that the 20 participants in the program will each receive 1000 trees to cultivate.
The next phase will see us assist with funding to provide organic compost, harvesting support and agronomy training before the first crop becomes available in 2024. It is our hope that the project will yield around 60x60kg sacks of coffee which we will purchase at an outright price guaranteed to cover the costs of production, recognise the quality and bring about a profit for the new producers.
We are very much seeing this as the start of what we hope will be an impactful and fruitful relationship for all involved!
It is down to your support that we are able to utilise our position within this global supply chain to effect the change we need to see. Your purchasing of our beans since our inception has helped us to build a business that can legitimately become a force for good. We are so excited to continue developing relationships with these young entrepreneurs and will update this page in the coming months as the project progresses.