KOPAKAMA COFFEE FROM RWANDA
The Welcoming Song
As Blas and company piled out of a white Toyota, a dozen villagers formed a circle around four Rwandan dancers who moved in rhythmic grace through a series of steps and gesture. Their brightly patterned clothing flashed in the dusky light. A villager in a white dress shirt beat a drum in time with long flat sticks that looked like a ladle, his lilting voice traveling out over the evening. From the vantage point on the hill where the dancers clapped and sang, Blas and his fellow travelers saw Lake Kivu. The lake is the region’s defining feature: a source of food, the regulator of weather, and a means of transportation. It looked like a mirror. It was hard to tell where the green hills ended and the islands of Lake Kivu began.
“When I stepped out of the van, my brain got caught up in some type of ecstasy, because the view of the lake was so surreal,” says Blas. “The lake is at least 1,400 meters above sea level, so you know every single coffee that’s coming from there is high-altitude grade coffee.”
The song ended and the villagers welcomed Blas and his fellow coffee industry specialists to the village of Rubengera, a municipality in the Rutsiro District. At the village’s entrance there was a large sign that read, “Let’s keep our workplace clean, it’s our home. Dear worker or visitor, please deposit your trash in a dust bin nearby.” What makes a society admirable? Whether it’s the natural beauty of the locale, a high level of organization and equity, or the presence of art, the cooperative farms of Kopakama undoubtedly comprise a beautiful society in all regards. A place filled with song is a place where good work is done.
A Beautiful Tomorrow
Kopakama members are used to visitors. The ritualized welcoming dances are not uncommon; they are a natural outflow and expression of local culture. Music and dance are an integral part of Rwandan ceremonies, social gatherings and storytelling. The village of Rubengera has been the site of ongoing work with Twin, a Non-Governmental Organization. Twin helps to strengthen the coffee supply chain by promoting gender equality, sustainable agriculture, and certifications. These certifications are no small thing. Fair trade and organic coffees can fetch much higher prices, money that can then go back into developing and improving infrastructure for coffee production. Significantly, Kopakama has formed within itself a collective of women farmers. They call themselves Ejo Heza, a Kinyawanda phrase that means “a beautiful tomorrow”. That gives you an idea of where the people of Kopakama are coming from: one eye to the quality of today’s product, one eye to what’s coming for generations down the line.
While in Rwanda, Blas worked alongside the Twin’s Coffee Marketer for East Africa, Mollie Moisan. Together they went out of the village to a hillside plot of land. This area overlooked the patchwork fields of the Kopakama Cooperative. The plot of land was to become a farm. There was a group of about thirty villagers there, preparing the dry rocky soil for planting. There were workers up and down the hillside, moving rocks and swinging adzes and hoes into the dirt, digging holes as other villagers brought them coffee plant seedlings. Mollie and Blas joined in the work. It was dusty under the hot sun. A field this size would take a farmer two years to cultivate. With a few dozen cooperative members it would take about a week. “The whole town was there,” says Blas. “The whole community got together to plant these trees. That’s the sense of cooperatives.” One day, Blas very well might roast the coffee seeds from the trees he helped to plant on the hillside that day, completing the full circle of the coffee supply chain. At Fulcrum, we want to go to where it all starts, to get a feel for the lay of the land and hear the songs that surround the coffee.