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Farm to Cup 2014: The Economics of Coffee in Rwanda

In May of 2014, an elite team of students from the University of Rwanda, Washington State University and Michigan State University are working together to answer pressing questions in Rwanda's Coffee sector.

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  1. Hayley Hohman - Mobile Uploads | Facebook
    Hayley Hohman - Mobile Uploads | Facebook
  2. Workers at the organic farm on Gishamwana Island. These ladies are standing next to a fermentation tank that is part of the washing station where pulp is removed from the coffee cherries. 
  3. Joel Clifton - Rwanda Study Abroad 2.0 | Facebook
    Joel Clifton - Rwanda Study Abroad 2.0 | Facebook
  4. Research team partners
  5. Joel Clifton - Rwanda Study Abroad 2.0 | Facebook
    Joel Clifton - Rwanda Study Abroad 2.0 | Facebook
  6. Joel, Brandon and Augustine Ruhimbaza visit the Kigufi Estate to research organic production. See Joel's essay below for the details. What an experience!
  7. Joel Clifton - Rwanda Study Abroad 2014 | Facebook
    Joel Clifton - Rwanda Study Abroad 2014 | Facebook
  8. Reflections from Joel

    May 26, 2014

    The past several days here in Rwanda have been some of the most unforgettable days I think I’ve ever had. Mario took Brandon and I on our own little tour of the Rubavu district along Lake Kivu, which turned out to be the most exciting part of our two and a half week adventure. We met up with our student partners from the northern campus of the University of Rwanda and a Czech photojournalist named Jana. Our trip by motorbike took us down along unpaved, rutted, and winding roads to reach our final destination. Gishamwana Island is a ten hectare island on the edge of the shore which was entirely covered in coffee. The owner wasn’t there at the time, but we were able to get much valuable information from the farm manager. Everything that they use there has to be hauled in by boat on the ten minute ride across the lake. This is one of the only farms which are certified organic in Rwanda, so they use several unique pest management and fertilization practices here.

    Nestled in among a country of struggle is a calm oasis which is Kigufi Estate. There we met up with the owner, a man named Jean Pierre who spoke excellent English with a distinct British-type accent. In my opinion, he is the classiest and most forward-thinking person I have met while I’ve been here. His farm is a total of 8,000 coffee trees on four hectares of steeply sloping land. All of the coffee he produces goes to the café that he also owns in Kigali. Between the coffee shop and the farm, he employs 32 people. He has applied for organic certification on his farm so he can market that aspect in his shop, but he has already been practicing many sustainable methods for many years. The farm is nearly a closed system, meaning that they produce most of their own farm inputs. There are also dairy cows on the farm which provide valuable manure to incorporate into the system. There are plans in the works to convert Jean Pierre’s childhood home into an overnight lodge to create a place where guests can come and see (and taste!) the entire process that coffee takes to arrive in a cup. This is essentially the very experience we took together.

    I know for certain that this trip has been worthwhile. In fact, as I consider how little time I have left here, I can feel a sadness creep in, and a reluctance to leave. I believe I have become rather endeared to this country and its people. This is a place with both a hope and a future, and the work that is going on here with coffee has the potential to make a meaningful impact on the lives of real farmers and families. I haven’t even left yet, but I am already creating plans in my mind to return someday.

  9. Reflecting on the Experience

    Randy Fortenberry, Endowed Chair School of Economic Sciences WSU
    May 27

    We have had a great Rwandan experience.  One never knows exactly how the dynamics will work out when people who have effectively never met come together for an intense activity that requires a lot of work and a lot of time spent together.  It became clear in the first two days in Kigali that we had a special team of students from the U.S.  The WSU and MSU students came together immediately and it was as if they had been together long before the start of this adventure.

    Even more impressive was the way the researchers assimilated with their Rwandan partners once we reached Huye.  Teams consisting of one or two U.S. students coupled with one or two Rwandan students went into the field to collect research for their joint projects.  Within a day or two it was as if the Rwandan team members had been part of the research team for months.  By the time we took a long field trip from Huye in the southern part of the country to the northwest part of the country we had become one big research organization with everyone focused on collaboration, sharing, and learning as much as possible with each outing. The final day in Huye socializing with the Rwandan research partners was particularly special, and it was clear that very strong bonds had been created in our short two week time there.  I could not have been associated with a better group of Rwandan and U.S. student researchers.

    Special thanks go to the Rwandan faculty, especially Dean Solange and Dr. Daniel, and to Mario from Rogers Family Roasters for their tireless support and encouragement.  We were really made to feel at home.  

  10. News from Britney

    May 24
    The more I travel the more I realize that it is not the sites that make a place unique, it's the people. Today we said goodbye to our Rwandan partners as we're leaving for Kigali in the morning. Whether you call it luck or believe it to be fate, I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to work with such an amazing group of students. From the beginning we were greeted with nothing but kindness, and as our projects progressed, we grew closer. I am confident that beyond the scope of this project, we will keep in contact.Thank you Rwanda, this experience has been unforgettable!
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  12. The US team 

    from left to right Randy Fortenberry (WSU), Britney Zondlak (MSU), Hayley Hohman (WSU), Ron Groen (MSU), The Nyungwe Forest Field Guide, Joel Clifton (MSU), Corbin Poppe (WSU) and Brandon Nickels (WSU). They are all out in the field today, so we'll be watching for pictures and news over the weekend.
  13. Reflections from Ron 

    May 22
    A lot of the group has had a lot of agricultural, business, and political experiences in many parts of the world. Even with our experiences, there has been a large learning curve in regards to the coffee industry in Rwanda. It was about 10 days ago that we saw our first coffee tree and saw how the beans were processed. Since then we were able to learn a lot about Rwandan culture and about all aspects of the coffee industry. It is more evident than ever that it is not about what you know, but rather who you know. Our trip here would not have been possible without the support of many people back in Michigan and Washington and especially here in Rwanda. We are supported in every way possible. The inflow of information is extremely useful and beneficial to be able to better understand the Rwandan coffee industry. Influential people accompany us while we are in the thousand hills and also during dinner, as we talk about the future potential of the Rwandan coffee sector. This trip has been a great experience and I cannot wait to see what else we are able to see and accomplish in the days to come.
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  15. Joel Clifton - Rwanda Study Abroad 2014 | Facebook
    Joel Clifton - Rwanda Study Abroad 2014 | Facebook
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  17. Common Ground

    May 21
    Back home in the US, coffee shops are the go to place to meet with friends, collaborate and get some work done. Life is no different in Huye where the Rwandan and US students get the job done at Mario's Coffee Conexión
  18. Britney Zondlak - Rwanda summer adventure | Facebook
    Britney Zondlak - Rwanda summer adventure | Facebook
  19. Adventure Day

    May 21
    Today the team took a break from all of their hard work and went for a stunning hike in the Nyungwe Forest National Park. 
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  21. Britney Zondlak - Rwanda summer adventure | Facebook
    Britney Zondlak - Rwanda summer adventure | Facebook
  22. Britney Zondlak - Rwanda summer adventure | Facebook
    Britney Zondlak - Rwanda summer adventure | Facebook
  23. A Letter home from Hayley after a visit to Nyungwe

    May 21

    The forest was amazing today! We went on the canopy tour and saw a lot of the foliage, but no animals on the tour itself, but when we were driving back to Huye we saw several on the road. It was very cool!


    Rwanda has been fantastic. I love doing research here and hope to continue working on developmental work in the future, possibly even here in Rwanda. The people are fantastic and it is very secure for a developing country. Everyone that we have met seems so enthusiastic, open-minded, and willing to work together to accomplish something. It has truly been incredible and I will miss Rwanda when we leave, but hopefully I can come back and visit or do more work here in the future!


    Our research project has been going very well. I was very skeptical and worried that I would not have substantive findings because of the lack of numerical data I was able to collect, but that is probably due to my major. But, upon typing up my notes, I feel that my partner Daniel and I have accomplished a great deal and I look forward to writing the course paper on my findings.


    I really enjoy working with my UR student partner. Daniel is very enthusiastic and is a hard worker. He wishes to continue working on the project after our two week program is up. He had his first cup of coffee last week and is growing to like the taste of coffee. He been very engaged and is interested in every part of the coffee industry. 


    I look forward to this last week of being in Africa but am already dreading having to leave. 

  24. It's all about quality

    Rwanda is such a tiny country, they cannot hope to compete on the world market with volume. So, they have wisely chosen to focus on quality. The student teams are quickly learning what all goes into that goal including high quality IPM. The pictures below illustrate just one facet of the damage caused by antestia bugs in the region. 
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