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What Rwanda can teach us about the power of sustainable coffee


Becky Moorcroft, Corporate Partnerships Manager at Send a Cow

I recently took part in a sustainability panel discussion with Oatly and Extract Coffee Roasters at the Coffee House project in Bristol. We covered many aspects of sustainability in the coffee roasting and growing process, but what really stuck with me was the consensus that cows can be an essential part of improving standards of living for small-holder farmers in developing countries, in a sustainable way.

Although cows have been getting a bad press recently due to methane emissions and deforestation caused by large scale industrial farming, a recent report by the RSA on how UK farmers should adapt for climate change places sustainably managed livestock farming firmly within its plan.

In fact, in Rwanda, a family cow can be the difference between surviving and thriving. In a country in which 38% of children are stunted due to malnutrition, a condition which sadly affects them for life, we must work with the resources people have already in order to find sustainable solutions to poverty.

In our Ikawa n’Inka (coffee and cows) project, we ask farmers that we work with not what they need, but what they have. People in the remote southern Rwandan highlands are farming very small plots of land, often on steep slopes with poor soil. Many don’t believe the land they have is sufficient to provide food for their families and have a reliable income.

However, each square metre is precious and, when properly fertilised with organic manure, can provide a varied diet for families and a bountiful harvest of high quality coffee. Families can then sell this coffee to pay for home essentials and school fees.

The transformation that small-scale sustainable coffee farming is having on farming families in Rwanda really is incredible. When I visited one of our projects this year, I met Claire, who features in the African Coffee Break video. Orphaned at the age of 12, she told us that she used to feel lonely, and very isolated. But through joining a Send a Cow self-help group, and gaining knowledge of how to grow better vegetable and coffee crops, she feels a valued member of her community, able to support herself and her family.

Rwandan coffee has developed a name for its quality, attracting speciality coffee roasters as a result. Send a Cow enables farmers to utilise their land to grow high quality crops to be proud of, and connects them with coffee cooperatives where they can

tap into local markets and get a fair price for their produce.

We can learn so much from the resilience, ingenuity and tenacity of Rwandan coffee farmers, but let’s focus on the future. We know that sustainable coffee farming is possible, for growers and for the land they depend upon, not to mention the great quality coffee we get to drink here in the UK! It’s a win for everyone.

You can help to support small-holder farmers by researching the story behind the coffee you drink and buying ethically. You can also hold your own African Coffee Break, to support Rwandan Coffee farmers to thrive, and be in with a chance to win a coffee experience with Ben Aldridge courtesy of Origin Coffee Roasters!