Barista Magazine

AUG-SEP 2019

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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71 www.baristamagazine.com IN 2018, SMAYAH UWAJENEZA boarded a bus in her hometown of Kigali, Rwanda, bound for Nairobi, Kenya. The trip, which was the young barista's fi rst visit to the nearby East African country, had a singular purpose: After the 17.5-hour bus ride, Smayah would try her hand at a competition she'd never seen in person before, let alone participated in: the East African AeroPress Championship. She won. Along with a trophy, she landed a second big trip, this one to Sydney, Australia, where she would compete in the World Aero- Press Championship—and she couldn't wait. For Smayah, working in coffee is about trying new things, exploring new places, and represent- ing Rwandan coffee and the people who grow it. Setting off on a long journey to a place she's never been may make her a little nervous, and it may take some courage, but she's ready for the challenge and for the opportunity it presents. She is driven to succeed not so much for herself, but for the positive change she can bring to her fellow Rwandans. "I am always nervous to stand on those big stages," she says. "But I feel it's part of my responsibility to represent the 300,000 farmers in Rwanda." If Bloomberg Philanthropies is looking for a single person who em- bodies the success of its efforts in Rwanda, it just might be Smayah. The goals for Bloomberg and the Rwandan nonprofi t it supports, Sustainable Growers, however, are much larger than a single person. Just as coffee has changed Smayah's life, Sustainable Growers and Bloomberg Philanthropies seek to change the world for tens of thou- sands of Smayah's fellow countrywomen. Sustainable Growers (SG) put down roots in Rwanda in 2013. SG harnessed the power of Bloomberg Philanthropies and exists to provide education and support to Rwanda's coffee-grower co-ops, which primarily comprise women. Through the SG programs, the co-op members learn best practices for improving the quality of the coffee they produce, which in turn helps them earn better prices. The support hardly ends there: In addition to equipping producers with skills and tools to improve their coffee harvests, the organiza- tion seeks secondary means for generating income for the co-ops. In Rwanda, a specifi c area of growth has been coffee tourism, with some co-ops reporting that income from tourism has increased rapidly over the past three years, and now provides a signifi cant and growing alternative revenue stream. This is especially benefi cial because while coffee prices and harvests may fl uctuate as a result of elements outside of the co-op's control—the weather, the C market, and more—tourism continues to grow steadily throughout the coun- try regardless, and can provide a reliable income no matter which direction the coffee market goes. Further, the trainings and support provided by SG come with tan- gible rewards for the co-op members above and beyond improving the quality of their coffee. Every training a member attends earns them points. At the end of the year, members receive a catalog of items for which they can cash in their points, which range from fertilizers, solar lights, radios, and goats, to the most valuable item, a cow. In an innovative twist, the women of the co-ops themselves decide which rewards to offer in the catalog. David Griswold, founder of Portland, Ore.–based importer Sustain- able Harvest—which established Sustainable Growers—says that when Bloomberg Philanthropies agreed to back the project, SG's goal was to reach 3,500 women farmers with training and support over a three-year period. In fact, the program had engaged more than 4,000 by 2016. Seeing that success, Bloomberg backed another three years of the program, but raised the stakes roughly tenfold: The goal was set to involve 30,000 coffee growers from 2016–2018. Again, SG sur- Smayah takes her responsibility of representing the women producers of Rwanda very seriously. She says it's an honor to speak around the world on their behalf.

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