Creating a Beautiful Tomorrow, Today
“Trade Aid is always seeking out new origin supply options, and we’re excited to be able to offer New Zealand’s coffee roasters the opportunity to buy FTO Rwandan coffee for the first time. Rwandan coffee supply has, for numerous reasons, been in our sights for several years and now that we have found a producer co-operative who fits us well as a trading partner, we are proud to present coffee from the Kopakama co-operative to the New Zealand specialty coffee market.
I visited Kopakama in December and found how the members of Kopakama have, like so many other Rwandans, begun an extraordinary recovery from the horrors of the 1994 genocide that tore their country apart. Through their creation of an inclusive co-operative and the development of a high quality export coffee programme, they are making a remarkable recovery and now we have the opportunity through our trade to support them in their efforts to create a beautiful tomorrow.
It’s a warm sunny day, and a light breeze is rustling the leaves of the three-metre tall coffee trees that are growing nearby. Between these taller stands of coffee trees, on the crest of the hill, an open field has been recently planted with coffee seedlings and soya beans. To the west, the hill slopes gently down to the glistening waters of Lake Kivu, the natural border between this westernmost part of Rwanda and the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Today, around 100 members of the Ejo Heza (which means, ‘a beautiful tomorrow’) women’s group are working together, spreading compost fertiliser around the bases of the young coffee trees on this newly-worked field which they have recently bought together. The group has purchased this communal plot as a deliberate means of helping it to meet one of its key objectives: the promotion of unity and reconciliation within a community which was torn apart by the genocide of 1994.
In the years following the genocide, Rwandan society remained shattered with murderers and victims continuing to live side by side. Considerable efforts have been made in the years since to rebuild society and the Ejo Heza initiative is adding to these. It brings women together to work for two days every week and in doing so, to talk with and to support each other, and to help each other to address the personal challenges they would struggle to overcome if they always worked alone.
‘My father was in prison for committing genocide’, explains Christine Nyiranshimyimana. ‘It was shameful for me to be spoken of within the community as the child of a killer. Today, there is no more shame’.
The other main aim of Ejo Heza is to empower women, and the group have already benefitted both from gender equity training and also by gaining more control over their family finances. By selling their own coffee, these women earn more cash themselves and they use their earnings very effectively for the benefit of their families. They can also access loans through their membership of Ejo Heza, which provides them extra opportunities to increase their coffee production, or else to set themselves up with alternative sources of revenue, such as buying cows which produce a regular supply of milk and manure.
This is all on top of the higher prices they already receive by selling their fair trade organic coffee through their wider co-operative, Kopakama. While their neighbouring farmers receive 250 francs per kilogram of coffee cherries at the government collection point, from their co-op they receive a first payment of 360 francs per kg. Later this month at their annual general assembly, they expect to confirm a second payment of a further 30 francs per kg.
Here, this vital extra income is routinely used to cover school expenses for their children, and for other important household improvements, such as buying mattresses as a more comfortable sleeping option than the mats they have been using until now. By working together, and by finding a better market for their coffee under fair trade terms, the women of Ejo Heza are already starting to realise their dream of a beautiful tomorrow.”