Last week, I arrived in Butare, Rwanda (also known as Huye) where I will be doing an 8-week internship for the Global Center for Food Systems Innovations (GCFSI). I am involved in two projects in Rwanda related to higher education solutions for development. This is the first of several blog posts I will be posting from the field.
In Butare, Rwanda, Café Connexion (CxC), a café and coffee roaster, is connecting farmers to a new market – local coffee consumers. In recent years, coffee (particularly specialty varieties) has become one of Rwanda’s largest export crops. Specialty roasters and cafes have become popular in in capital, Kigali, but most Rwandans still prefer to drink tea.
Small businesses like Café Connexion hope to change this by providing consumers with locally grown and roasted coffee at affordable prices. Strategically located next to the University of Rwanda campus, the café offers students and professors a pick-me-up at just 200 RWF (~30 cents) for a small cup of black coffee. Espresso is only 400 RWF (~58 cents) and lattes run at 500 RWF (~73 cents).
While you won’t find any of the fancy flavored syrups or iced beverages as in urban areas, Café Connexion offers coffee consumers an opportunity to support local farmers and appreciate the unadorned flavors of their crops.
The café is a symbol of budding entrepreneurship and growth in a country that is still recovering from the 1994 genocide.
From 2000-2005, Butare was the epicenter of the USAID funded Partnership for Enhancing Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages (PEARL). The PEARL project and its follow-up SPREAD (2006-2012), emphasized the role of higher education institutions in improving the livelihoods of local communities through increased production and value of Rwanda’s coffee sector.
The project was based on the premise that “Universities hold comparative advantage in international value chain development through…mission to solve problems…large pool of trained human resources…and access to technologies.”
PEARL was a collaboration between local farmers, the National University of Rwanda (now the University of Rwanda), the National Agriculture Research Institute of Rwanda (ISAR), Michigan State University, the Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M University, and private sector partners.
According to the Borlaug Institute, “Growers have gained direct access to lucrative new markets and introduced international quality standards. The result is the rebirth of the coffee industry and a doubling of income for 40,000 Rwandan coffee farmers.”
PEARL and SPREAD focused on providing farmers with access to international markets. Café Connexion complements the project by affording farmers the opportunity to share their quality crop at home with local citizens of Butare, further increasing their livelihoods and the local economy.