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Returning to Rwanda: Old Friends and New Beginnings

At the start of June earlier this summer, myself and Aissatou headed out to Rwanda, joined by 6 UK roasters. Our intention was to visit our long-term partners Kinini Washing Station, run by Jacquie and Malcolm, and to meet for the first time our new partners at Twongerekawa Coko Cooperative.

We arrived in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda which is handily located in the very centre of the country. Rwanda is about the same size as Wales, so we were able to base ourselves in Kigali for the whole trip and travel out to farms etc every day without too much driving. Kigali is a modern and exceptionally clean city which we very much enjoyed settling into!

Our first stop was the Rwanda Genocide Memorial and Museum in Kigali. It was a beautiful space built to remember the atrocities which happen in the Genocide in 1994 and the people who were lost. It was a powerful and poignant experience, whilst the content was heavy, we felt it was a very important place to visit to better understand the country we were in and its people.

View of Kigali from Memorial

Kinini Washing Station

A New Beginning

The following day we met up with Jacquie and Malcolm, the founders of Kinini Washing Station. We’ve been working with Kinini for many years now, but had not been able to visit them since 2018 due to the pandemic, so it was a hotly anticipated return!

A New Beginning - Whole group with Jacquie and Malcolm

The first day we spent with Jacquie and Malcolm we headed east to where their charity, A New Beginning, is located and where Jacquie’s family lives. This charity was set up by Jacquie in 2007 to help women and children, who had been displaced after the genocide, and runs a primary school and health post. In fact, Jacquie only began growing coffee and set up the washing station primarily as a way to sustainably fund the charity. The charity is now fully self-sufficient, the school has 306 pupils between 3 and 12 years old, 11 teachers and the charity fully funds 16 orphans, covering all of their costs. The health post is on the same plot of land as the school and supports not only the teachers and pupils at the school but the whole of the local community.

A New Beginning is in the Eastern Province, but the land there is at a lower altitude and not suitable for growing coffee, so Kinini Washing Station is located in the very hilly Northern Province, which is too far for the farmers to benefit from it. So, now the first school and health post are up and running and financially secure, Jacquie’s next plan is to recreate the set-up next to the washing station in Northern Province to support the farmers and cooperatives she works with.

Jacquie attended Full Circle this year and gave a talk on “Empowering Women in Coffee” that you can find here.

Teachers at A New Beginning

Kinini Washing Station

Next, we were off to see the washing station itself! When we arrived we met Kayiranga, the General Manager, Patrick, the Quality and Digital Manager and Jan the Finance Manager.

The washing station is in the Rulindo district and collects and processes coffee cherries from the surrounding areas. They work both with individual farmers and with whole cooperatives. A farmer can either bring their cherries directly to the washing station, where they will be weighed and paid accordingly or if they are too far away, Kinini has 11 collecting points across the local area, where coffee will be collected and loaded onto bike or trucks and delivered to the washing station by trusted members of staff.

Since our last visit, there had been many developments at the washing station. Notably, they now have a fully functioning quality cupping room and lab on-site, where Patrick roasts, grinds and cups all the coffees coming in. The cuppings are open to anyone who works at the washing station, and Jacquie has encouraged the farmers to cup their own coffees too so that they have a fuller understanding of how different farming practices can influence the cup profile.

They also have developed a kind of worm fertiliser and insect repellent. They take the cherry skins and mucilage that are a byproduct of producing coffee and turn it into a compost using worms. The cherries are put on a covered tray that is raised off the ground, and the worms are added. After 45 days the worms will have eaten through the cherries and what is left is perfect for placing around the bottom of coffee trees to give them nutrients. At this stage, fresh cherries are added and the younger worms will move towards them, the older worms stay in the compost and so are returned to the soil when it is spread, which further helps the nutrients to be churned into the soil. The “insect repellent” is made from the dark liquid which is produced during this process, which is collected under the tray. 1 litre of this liquid is mixed with 20 litres of water and then can be sprayed onto the leaves of trees to protect them.

Worm Farm

KCRS Cooperative

Jacquie and Kinini work with a number of cooperatives who they process the coffee for. One of those is KCRS. KCRS is a cooperative that is very close to Jacquie’s heart and is made up entirely of women, with 175 members from across 7 villages in the area. The women deliver their coffee to the washing station for processing, and when we visited we were very lucky to be very warmly welcomed by them. Jacquie firmly believes that in empowering women whole communities of people’s lives can change. We heard from their president, Seraphina Josephine, as well as other members, about how their lives have changed since joining the cooperative and growing coffee as it has meant they are earning an income for their families and they have control of the finances in the family for the first time.

One member, Marie-Chantal, said the following:

KCRS Women

Cocatu Cooperative

Cocatu is another of the cooperatives which Kinini work with, and is the largest of them all with 269 members. It is also one of the highest with lots of the members farming at 2500 masl! We met the president of the cooperative, Focus, at lunch and then drove up to see some of the farms that are part of the cooperative where we also met Augustin, the secretary of the cooperative. Being at such a high altitude meant that hiking through to the farms was sometimes tricky, but the scenery was absolutely beautiful.

Focus (President of Cocatu) & Augustin (Secretary)

We had Jacquie and Malcolm with us and Focus and Augustin were very keen to show them (and us) a certain farm in Gihinga that was quite a walk from the road. When we arrived at the farm we saw that the trees were bare and had no cherries this year. This was quite a contrast to the other trees we’d seen which were all heavily laden with cherries that were yet to ripen. They told us that it had happened after the area experienced a hail storm which damaged the trees. This is something that has started to happen more frequently, they told us, as the climate changes. We heard further reports of hail damage when we visited Twongerekawa Coko Cooperative, which is also at a very high altitude.

Twongerekawa Coko Cooperative

The final stop on our trip was Twongerekawa Coko Cooperative, which is also located in Northern Province but is in Gakenke district which is a bit more remote than Kinini and Rulindo and so took us a longer and bumpier drive to get to!

Our relationship with Twongerekawa Coko began in 2022 when a roaster we work with, Owens in Devon, introduced us to them as they already had a relationship there, so it was our first time meeting them and seeing the cooperative and the washing station they have there.

The cooperative is very well established, led by Therese their president, they have 394 members, 295 of which are women, and a beautiful washing station situated at 2200 masl on the side of a very steep hill! They are fully Fair Trade and Organic certified. They have over 200 raised drying beds and produce between 4 and 8 containers of coffee a year. The majority of what they produce is washed coffee, but they have begun experimenting with honeys and natural coffees as well, which they have done to a very high standard and cup excellently.

Twongerekawa leadership committee, president Therese (centre), Hannah & Aissa

The cooperative is 100% organic. Everything there is organically grown and certified and they teach organic farming practices to their members. They have an example farm on the site of their washing station which is used to showcase best farming practices to their members when they come to deliver their cherries. The cooperative also have goats and chickens which they distribute to their members. This is part of a wider governmental initiative to combat malnutrition, particularly in children. The cooperative gives out these animals and offers education around the importance of good nutrition.

A byproduct of producing washed coffee is what is known as “honey water”. This is the water that is used to soak and wash the coffee, after the process it contains very high concentrations of sugar and so if it gets into the local environment (soil or water) it can disrupt the ecosystem. Therefore it is very important to ensure this is dealt with properly. At Twongerekawa they filter this water in a completely organic way. It is filtered through three stages: charcoal, stones and sand. And this whole process is carried out four times to ensure the water is fully clean and can be used for irrigation without causing harm. Not only does this process protect the local environment from the potential of being polluted by honey water, the cooperative also found that the honey water, whilst it was being held in tanks before it was filtered, attracted bees who are drawn in by the sugar and drink the water. And of course, the more bees the better, both for the planet on the whole but also for the coffees trees as they have been proven to increase the yield of cherries per coffee tree.

Rwandan Coffees

Feature coffees from Rwanda

Kinini AA

This coffee lot tastes like tangerine, raspberry, maple syrup, jasmine.

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Cocatu AA

This coffee tastes like blackberry, stonefruit, raisin, toffee.

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Twongerekawa Coko

This Bourbon coffee tastes like cherry, orange, oolong tea, vanilla, stonefruit.

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