A great first week: TMEA Market Access Workshop in Rwanda

Posted by Nancy Demuth on 16 March 2017

Packing my suitcase and flying off to Rwanda was the best introduction I could have had to my new job at Twin. In late February, I arrived in the buzzing capital of Kigali to take part in a marketing workshop with twenty coffee producer organisations (POs) from Rwanda and Burundi, who we are working with through our TMEA project, http://www.twin.org.uk/projects/trademark-east-africa-strengthening-good-practices/

Throughout this year, I will be travelling to these coops and speaking directly to the people who work there. To say I’m excited would be an understatement! I plan to find out first-hand and document with photos, video, narrative and facts, everything there is to know about them – from the history of the coops and coffee production in their communities, to their work on quality, gender quality, sustainable agriculture, certifications, and their plans for the future. All of this information will be crucial in helping us to connect farming and coffee drinking communities through committed buyers.

Day 1 of the workshop was led by Twin’s coffee marketers, Soizic and Mollie, and our Regional Manager, Emmanuel. We discussed market access, dipping into an overview of world coffee production and market demand, before focussing on the specialty market, how to gain access to it, and how to create successful, long-term partnerships with international buyers.

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On Day 2, we were joined by the 3 producer-owned export agencies who export the POs’ coffees: Kevin from Misozi, Eugénie from Rwaschoscco in Rwanda, and Noella from Cococa in Burundi. They talked through (in English, Kinyarwanda and French, respectively!) the process and export requirements, with lots of input from the POs to define the best ways to work. I was beyond impressed with the efforts of Luc, our quality control officer, who tirelessly translated backwards and forwards for us in three languages throughout the day!

After two busy days of presentations and information gathering, we were up bright and early on day 3 to set off on a three-and-a-half hour journey across the lush, green hills of the Rwandan countryside. We were on our way to visit Kopakama, a cooperative of over 600 smallholder farmers who have been a close partner of Twin’s for many years. Following a warm welcome from the coop’s president, Frédéric, we were all given a tour of Kopakama’s facilities, starting with a stop off at Kopakama’s new dry mill, currently under construction just a few miles away.

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Pulling up at the main site at last was an unforgettable moment. With misty Lake Kivu just visible in the distance, we were greeted by a performing dance troupe singing a personalised song in Kinyarwanda: “Thank you Twin for making us shine, thanks to Twin our coffee is now known and sold to the international market.”

We were introduced to the coop members, and heard them speak about their experiences. I was struck by their dedication to planning ahead and continuing to improve the way they work – for instance, sharing ideas on how best to involve future generations in coffee production.

We then set off to see the demonstration plot, Ejo Heza (‘A Beautiful Tomorrow’), Kopakama’s fully-traceable women’s coffee field, but were caught in a sudden downpour. Having read about Ejo Heza’s moving history – the group was set up to heal divisions and promote female solidarity after the Rwandan genocide, and give many women who did not have direct access to land the opportunity to produce coffee in their own right – I felt especially honoured when the group’s president draped her shawl around me to protect me from the rain!

On the final day of our visit, we returned to the cooperative to conclude our rain-disrupted tour around the processing facilities, which included a new digester for water treatment financed by Taylors and TMEA. It was great to see the POs asking questions, taking notes and photos, and discussing ideas to implement in their own cooperatives back home. After a final, now-familiar and delicious home-cooked lunch of rice, beans, and cassava, it was time for me to start making the long journey back home to London.

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I’m a newcomer to the world of coffee, but even I was blown away by how much the farmers working collectively in Kopakama have achieved. Their sophisticated facilities and structure, as well as their dedication to continue to progress and make improvements for their community through coffee, is truly inspiring to see. Following on from my busy first week in the field, I can’t wait to learn more about the other POs that Twin is working with, and see how they are putting what they have learnt into action.