The third edition of Good Coffee Doing Good has launched! Working in collaboration with Bureaux Coffee, we are raising funds for The Gitesi Project through a very special Rwandan coffee.
Good Coffee Doing Good: it’s all in the name. But allow me to elaborate.
Good Coffee Doing Good is all about highlighting the stories of the inspiring producers we get to work with, showcasing some special coffees and raising funds to contribute to meaningful projects that give back to the communities that supply us with the good stuff.
Now, with this third iteration of Good Coffee Doing Good, we’re on a mission to support Rwandan coffee farming families and you can help!
Coffee laid out on drying tables at Gitesi Washing Station
As in many coffee growing countries, Rwanda’s history with coffee began with colonisation. Germany colonised Rwanda in the late 1880s, introducing coffee to the country. Belgium subsequently invaded the country during World War I, and during Belgian rule it was made mandatory for Rwandans to grow coffee, with the majority of the produce exported along with the profit.
Following World War II, Rwanda became a United Nations Trust Territory and gained eventual Independence in 1962.
To many Rwandans, coffee symbolised their colonial oppressors and, following Independence, many ripped their plants from the ground or simply stopped tending them since it was no longer enforced.
Others saw benefits in continuing with their coffee crops, and coffee became an important factor in the Rwandan economy. By the 1970s, coffee was Rwanda’s single largest export and the Rwandan government deemed it so important, they made it illegal to uproot coffee plants.
Political unrest and the long-running conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi groups led to a civil war, which culminated in the horrific Rwandan genocide in 1994. At some estimates, one million Rwandans were murdered in some 100 days, leaving the survivors, the economy and the country at large completely devastated.
Rwandan cofffee farmers at Gitesi Washing Station
Many coffee farms were left without farmers, either because they had been murdered or had fled to neighbouring countries, and coffee exports ground to a halt.
It’s been a long road to rebuild and stabilise, but in testament to the strength and resilience of the Rwandan people, the country has recovered in remarkable ways. In fact, Rwanda is now one of the most stable countries in the region and has seen remarkable economic growth in recent years, averaging 7-8% per year.
Coffee has played a major role in recovery efforts and the government instituted the National Coffee Strategy in the early 2000s. The strategy refocused efforts away from commodity coffee to higher grade specialty coffee, and attention was placed on education and improved processing methods. Notably, central washing stations became more popular, helping smallholders farmers to fully wash their coffees, increasing the quality of the final product. These improvements have significantly increased the export value of Rwandan coffee.
Drying beds at The Gitesi Washing Station
One such washing station is Gitesi, which was founded in 2005 by father and son team Alexis and Aime Gahizi. It is located in the Gitesi sector of the Karongi region in Western Rwanda, where Alexis’ family has been growing coffee for generations.
Alexis and Aime are committed to building strong relationships with farmers in the community, and run a bonus payment system which acts as a profit share program: when the coffee sells for a high price, the farmers receive a secondary payment. This incentivises farmers, first to grow high quality coffee, and second, to sell it to Gitesi. Today, there are over 1800 farmers who deliver and sell their coffee to Gitesi Washing Station.
Alexis and Aime focus on stringent quality control; management and staff have strict protocol for receiving, sorting and then processing the coffee cherries. This is why the coffee is so delicious, and we know you’ll taste it in the cup.
Dairy cows at Gitesi
The Gitesi Project is a grassroots initiative that places dairy cows with coffee farming families. It was founded in 2015 by Aime Gahizi together with Tim Williams, founder and CEO of Bureaux Coffee here in Melbourne.
Tim has had an illustrious coffee career, having held senior positions at some of the world’s most renowned coffee businesses before returning to Melbourne and founding Bureaux. He also organises and runs the World AeroPress Championships.
It was during a stream of WhatsApp messages in 2014 that Aime and Tim conceived of The Gitesi Project, after a shipment of coffee from Gitesi had arrived damaged and roasters refused to purchase it. Tim realised how vulnerable farmers’ incomes are to factors outside of their control, and how skewed the balance of risk is in the supply chain. Tim and Aime founded the project as a way to support coffee farmers in a way that didn’t relate to coffee production.
Aime Gahizi, co-owner of Gitesi Washing Station
The Gitesi Project operates as what is known as a Girinka Program, a program that was launched in 2006 by the Rwandan government as a way to improve malnutrition rates. It is based on traditional Rwandan practices.
Girinka is a Kinyarwanda word, translating directly as ‘have a cow’, but in standard use, it is a traditional greeting meaning ‘may you prosper’. This demonstrates how deep the significance of owning cattle runs in Rwandan culture. In fact, giving cows is traditionally a sign of friendship or appreciation. The Girinka and Gitesi programs draw on this tradition, and have changed what it means to own cattle in Rwanda.
Girinka programs, including the Gitesi Project, have had a number of proven positive social impacts on Rwandan communities.
Girinka programs have contributed to an increase in agricultural production in Rwanda. Perhaps most obviously, milk production has increased due to both an increase in the overall number of cows in the country and also the cow breeds chosen for the program being more productive than local species. Second, the cow manure is used as a fertilizer, increasing the productivity of crops (including, but not limited to, coffee) and thereby bolstering food availability and income.
Dairy cows awaiting presentation at Gitesi Washing Station
A causal link has been established between Girinka programs and improved food security. This means sufficient safe food has been available to more people with sufficient regularity, and Girinka has played a part in reducing malnutrition rates in Rwanda.
Girinka has also led to an increase in cash income for beneficiaries. The increase in agricultural production as previously mentioned has allowed families to move away from subsistence farming. This means they often have a surplus of food and milk that can be traded or sold at market for cash income.
Coffee farmers at the presentation ceremony, Gitesi Washing Station
The impacts of Girinka run deep and are so intertwined with the cultural meaning of giving and owning cows. ‘Gutanga Inka’ (literal translation: “giving a cow”) means ‘sealing a bond of friendship’ and it remains a cultural practice that is owned, understood and valued by Rwandans.
Girinka is changing what cow ownership means in Rwanda. UNICEF estimated that 90% of the county’s cattle were slaughtered in the genocide, and - while cows remain a symbol of prosperity - Girinka is shifting the divisive perception surrounding cow ownership.
The ‘pass on’ component of Girinka, whereby the first born calf of cows given in the program is then passed on to another deserving member of the community, is particularly helping to encourage social cohesion through relationship building.
Alexis Gahizi, co-owner of Gitesi Washing Station
We’re proud to partner with Bureaux Coffee and The Gitesi Project on this incredible initiative. We’re featuring coffee from Gitesi Washing Station on our menu, roasted exclusively for filter. For every 250g of the coffee we sell, we'll donate A$3 to The Gitesi Project, along with $5 from every Good Coffee Doing Good t-shirt sold.
Our aim is to raise A$2700.00, which will equate to approximately 3 dairy cows, and health insurance for an additional 20 or so people.
You can help us with our mission to support Rwandan coffee farming families by purchasing a bag of the coffee or a Good Coffee Doing Good t-shirt. Both products are available to purchase online or in store at any of our locations.
You can also donate directly to The Gitesi Project, via their website.
Well before coffee arrives at cafes and ends up in your cup, the coffee cherry and its seed are put through development and quality control measures which are referred to as ‘processing’. Here, roaster Jake explains some of the common processing methods, why processing is so important, and how the way coffee is processed affects the final cup.