How Rwandan coffee helped country rebuild after genocide … and how Scotland is now helping

How Rwandan coffee helped country rebuild after genocide … and how Scotland is now helping

Twenty-five years after genocide ripped Rwanda apart, a Scottish-led project is working with coffee farmers and co-ops who have been instrumental in healing old wounds and rebuilding the economy. This Fairtrade Fortnight, one of the country’s pioneering coffee farmers comes to Scotland. 

Rwandan coffee farmer Aimable Nshimiye, who is manager of the Sholi coffee co-op in the country’s south-west, has left the sun-soaked hillsides of Rwanda for 10 days to come to  Scotland as part of a trade visit to highlight the quality of Rwandan coffee. He will take part in a series of events organised by the Scottish Fair Trade Forum and Challenges Worldwide, including a tasting session with International Development Minister Ben Macpherson MSP.

Rwandan coffee is renowned among industry experts for its full taste and rich flavour, but the sector suffers from a lack of infrastructure and trade barriers. As part of a five-year project that launched last year, a group of businesses and agencies have united to support eight Rwandan coffee co-ops to build capacity, maintain quality and access routes to market.

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Images: Eoghan Mackie, Challenges Worldwide; Martin Rhodes, Scottish Fair Trade Forum; Amy Oroko, Matthew Algie; and Aimable Nshimiye, Sholi Cooperative. By Martin Shields.

Challenges Worldwide, Scottish Fair Trade Forum, Twin Rwanda, Enactus and Matthew Algie have all collaborated on the Scottish Government-funded “Coffee Market Building for People and Prosperity” project to support Rwanda’s emergent coffee industry.

As part of Mr Nshimiye’s visit to the UK, the project’s organisers will also be showcasing Rwandan Fairtrade coffee to coffee buyers and experts at Challenges offices in Edinburgh on March 6 and Matthew Algie’s Glasgow headquarters on March 7. 

Ben Macpherson MSP, International Development Minister, is taking part in the coffee tasting event in Edinburgh on March 6. He said: “The Scottish Government-funded project has brought together forward-looking organisations who are working to empower Rwanda’s coffee farmers and their communities with the skills and infrastructure necessary to grow their businesses and improve their livelihoods. But it’s also forging new links between Scotland and Rwanda, as shown by Aimable’s visit to Edinburgh and Glasgow, and I’m looking forward to meeting him and hearing more about his experiences as manager of one of the country’s best known coffee cooperatives.”

Although acclaimed by industry experts for its quality and distinctive “terroir”, Rwandan coffee has yet to capture the attention of the world’s coffee consumers, unlike coffee from countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Colombia. Trade barriers, poor infrastructure and lack of capacity are blamed. Despite this, it has been one of the country’s major success stories after it played a pivotal part in the restoration of the economy in the aftermath of the genocide 25 years ago.

“Rwandan coffee has an utterly unique story to tell,” said Challenges’ Chief Executive Eoghan Mackie. “It’s of superb quality, but its story is also about the farmers who used these coffee co-ops to repair their shattered country in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide. They were vital in helping to rebuild trust between communities and the people within them. This is an inspirational story that has its roots in heart-breaking tragedy.”

Mr Nshimiye said the project had already had a profound impact upon his own coffee co-op, and that the trip to Scotland would, he hoped, generate further opportunities for Rwanda’s coffee industry and communities. He added: “This is a project that is already changing lives, and I have enjoyed greatly the chance to visit Scotland and meet the people involved, including buyers and roasters who appreciate the quality of the coffee we grow at Sholi.”

While the project is helping co-operatives to develop their business skills, improve their “coffee cupping” scores and negotiate better contracts with international buyers, it has also driven the development of off-grid solar power for remote communities and environmentally friendly improvements such as waste-water processing sites.

Martin Rhodes of the Scottish Fair Trade Forum said:  “The co-ops involved in this project grow a range of delicious coffees but lack access to basic utilities and have thus far struggled to gain access to coffee export markets. This brilliant Fairtrade partnership seeks to change that, and we’re already seeing results.”

Amy Oroko, Sustainability Manager at Matthew Algie, said: “We’re very passionate about bringing exceptional coffees from relatively less well known origins to the fore. It’s also really important for us to bring to life the impact that coffee continues to have for smallholder farmers in the communities that we source from. Having seen the impact of Fairtrade for cooperatives in Rwanda ourselves, we’re very excited to share this inspiring story with the coffee industry in Scotland.”


The Rwandan Coffee Meet the Maker tasting events take place at Challenges, Montgomery Street Lane, Edinburgh EH7 5JT (March 6) and Matthew Algie, 16 Lawmoor Street, Glasgow, G5 0NU (March 7). Both events run 3pm to 5pm. For more information please click here. 


Challenges Worldwide is an Edinburgh-based international developmental charity that focuses on supporting SMEs and social enterprises in emerging economies.