Abateraninkunga Ba Sholi, Rwanda

Rwandan coffee cooperative improves quality of life for smallholders

A specialty coffee cooperative in central Rwanda produces much more than premium coffee beans. It also produces important social benefits for its members, and for the entire local community.

The Abateraninkunga Ba Sholi (Sholi) coffee producers cooperative relies on a combination of ambitious smallholder farmers, innovative financing, and supportive government policy. It is a combination that has led to tangible and profound social impacts. Sholi was established in 2008, six years after the Rwandan Government implemented its National Coffee Strategy. The strategy promoted a production shift from commodity-grade coffee to higher value specialty coffee. It has led to stronger producer cooperatives, more coffee-washing stations, and increased capacity and skills among farmers and washing-station employees.

Washed coffee, combined with third-party certification, commands higher prices

Before 2014, the closest coffee-washing station to Sholi’s farmers was 20 kilometers away. Transportation options are limited for smallholder coffee farmers in the hills of central Rwanda, so accessing that washing station was a challenge. Many farmers opted instead to use traditional pulping and dry-processing techniques at their homes, avoiding the need to transport their coffee cherries, but generating a lower value product.

In 2014, the Sholi cooperative secured loan support from Rabobank Foundation to build a coffee-washing station in their own community. The washing station, and a second one that the cooperative recently built nearby, allows all 451 members of the cooperative to produce fully washed coffee. All Sholi’s farmers can now achieve the higher price commanded by wet-processed coffee. In practice that means Sholi members receive a price that is almost 7.5 percent higher than for semi-washed or dried coffee.

The Sholi cooperative achieved Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance certification in 2015 and 2016 respectively. In 2018 the cooperative was certified under the Coffee and Farmers Equity (CAFE) Practices standard. At least 150 member farmers hope to achieve organic certification in 2019. These third-party endorsements, though adding to the overall costs of production, allow the cooperative to command a premium price for their product. The endorsements assure member farmers of a fair price and good working conditions, and promote improved environmental quality.

Benefits flow to the whole community

Sholi provides training to its members on a range of topics related to improved coffee quality and yield. The enhanced knowledge and skills means that members’ productivity and earning capacity increases. With increased earning capacity comes increased spending potential, which benefits the entire community. The Sholi community now boasts a community meeting room and a healthcare center. The cooperative funded the construction of these facilities with assistance from a Dutch nonprofit organization. Previously, community members had to travel almost 20 kilometers to the closest healthcare facility, and they struggled to afford the cost of treatment. The Sholi cooperative pays the salaries of the health center’s five staff members. So now all local residents have access to primary healthcare and basic health and nutrition education.

Sholi’s Managing Director, Aimable Nshimiye, believes that the health center represents the central social impact of the cooperative. “To build a strong, sustainable coffee business, our members must have a good quality of life,” he explains. “Access to health services close to where they live is an essential foundation for a good quality of life.”

Access to finance generates more social benefits

Members pay an initial fee of 50,000 Rwandan francs ($US60) to join the cooperative, followed by a monthly contribution equivalent to about 35 cents. Members can apply for microloans from the resulting fund. Financing would not otherwise be available to Sholi’s smallholder farmers, yet the social benefits that flow from them are significant. For example, members use them to invest in solar panels, new land, additional coffee trees, livestock, housing maintenance, and high school and university education for their children.

“My children are able to join university and develop themselves,” says Sholi cooperative member, Leonidas Kabera. “The best thing about Sholi is their fairness towards their members. When they make extra profit, they make sure it goes back to the farmers. Sholi really cares about its farmers and community.”

Aimable Nshimiye is heartened to see many of the younger generation returning to the Sholi area when they finish their studies. They often find employment in the local coffee industry, or use their knowledge to improve productivity on their family’s smallholding, amplifying the cooperative’s impact.

The social benefits are growing

Farmers who initially resisted joining the cooperative, primarily because of the financial contribution required, can now see the social and economic benefits to members. “People within the community are developing a clear vision for their future, and becoming much more ambitious,” Aimable observes.

As a result, increasing numbers of farmers are now choosing to join the cooperative. This is good news for the cooperative, helping to meet growing demand for its certified, specialty product. It’s even better news for the entire Sholi community, which experiences crucial social, environmental, and social benefits from the cooperative’s activities.

Our impact in 2018

Each year we measure the impact of our activities. We do this together with our project partners like Sholi in Rwanda. Through an infographic, our impact insights are shown and the changes we want to achieve with our activities are explained.

Impact insights