Ethan Arpi

Part I: Rwanda Finds Hope in Premium Coffee

CoffeeThis Sunday, the New York Times Business section ran a front page article — Coffee, and Hope, Grow in Rwanda — on the remarkable story of Gemima Mukashyaka, an orphan of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, who has returned to her parents former coffee farm and, with the help of USAID and a local cooperative, has become part of a thriving coffee trade, which produces premium quality beans for export to the United States. As the Times notes, there are many small farmers like her who are also reaping the benefits of Rwanda’s booming coffee business: ?Rwanda, a tiny East African country recently rent by a famously savage civil war, has found hope in that most colonial of crops: coffee. By riding booming demand in the developed world for specialty brews–and, to a certain extent, by turning its own challenges to its advantage–Rwanda has made premium coffee-growing a national priority. That has not only brought in a trickle of money to a country with little else to trade, but provided a stage on which one-time blood enemies can reconcile their terrible history.?

Ms. Mukashyaka, whose parents were murdered during the genocide, now works side by side at a coffee cooperative with women, whose husbands are in prison for taking part in the killings. Many hope that the communal work experience will alleviate the ethnic suspicions and hatreds, and sow the seeds of a sweeter fruit. So far, so good. Gemma Uwera, a mother of eight, whose husband is accused of taking part in the genocide, told the Times that, ?After the genocide, I feared other people’s reaction when they got to know that my husband is in jail, so it was not easy to join the co-op. Now I have friends, I meet regularly with widows of genocide, and we plan how we can help each other if someone has a problem.?And in addition to providing a social outlet for farmers still traumatized by the ravages of war, coffee cultivation has been the engine of economic growth in the region. ?Five years ago, when worldwide coffee prices spiraled downward, her [Mukashyaka] neighbors in the densely populated region near Butare were uprooting their coffee trees and planting quick-growing food crops to survive,? The Times Reports. ?But today, there’s a clean coffee processing station nearby, and sprouted around it are two restaurants, a pharmacy, a bank, six hair salons, and just last week, the village’s first Internet cafe.?

For the time being, coffee has been a boon for Rwanda, a landlocked nation with few natural resources and little economic activity. But there is some concern that Rwanda’s recent success with coffee is only temporary. Stay Tuned for Part II of this series, which explores the problems of export oriented development and the global trade in agricultural commodities.