Union was the first coffee company in the world to source speciality coffee from Rwanda following the devastating genocide in 1994. A USAID-funded development project was launched to improve the livelihoods of poor rural farmers through production of high-quality coffee, and Union committed to be the programme’s first commercial partner. In 2002, our first year of operations, we purchased 50 sacks of coffee from Abahuzamugambi Ba Kawa Cooperative Maraba for short). Having maintained this relationship for over 18 years we now purchase 600-1200 sacks of coffee every year.
From approximately 300 initial members in 2001, the co-operative has expanded to over 1,500 members, of whom about 35 per cent are women. At the start of the
project, poverty levels were high and families could not afford to feed their children every day, or send all of them to school. Health was poor and nutrition levels low. Housing was basic: no furniture meant sleeping or sitting on dirt floors in a single room with corrugated tin roofing.
The premium we pay has contributed towards health insurance for cooperative members, improved housing with hygienic flooring, tile roofing and furniture, and economic stability in the local area through the creation of shops and local banks. Being able to eat three balanced meals a day has resulted in improved nutrition and health. As sales of speciality coffee have increased incomes in the area, greater economic stability has contributed significantly towards community cohesion. This is particularly important as ethnic divisions were a factor in the conflict that led to the 1994 genocide.