By Maria Kalaitzandonakes
DES MOINES, Iowa — On Thursday morning as many as 1,200 agricultural advocates at the World Food Prize gathered over steaming cups of coffee.
The week, it seems, is powered by caffeine. But before the coffee was here, it was grown on a tree, lovingly attended by a farmer.
One of these unsung heroes, Pierre Kamere Munyara, a coffee farmer and processor from Rwanda, has been representing his farm and country at the Global Farmer Network, a roundtable discussion among farmers from 15 nations held in conjunction with the World Food Prize.
According to the World Bank, coffee, tea and minerals account for about 60 percent of Rwanda’s exports. In 2014, the coffee exports expanded by 9.8 percent, after contracting in 2013.
Farmers are turning to coffee growing to receive higher prices. Recently, coffee farmers are adding value before export is through processing and washing. According to the Rwanda Department of Agriculture there are 215 coffee washing stations in Rwanda. Munyara is owns one of them.
“I farm, but I am also a processor,” he said. “I’m trying to do a big part of the value chain.”
Munyara is the former president of the Coffee Exporters and Processors Association of Rwanda and currently services as the Vice President of the Rwanda Farmers Chamber.
He grows 8,000 coffee trees on his 25-acre-farm, but he also mills the coffee beans of many farmers around him. He works with coffee co-ops, some made up of as many as 130 farmers.
“In Rwanda we don’t have big land; we don’t have big coffee farms,” he said. “Most people have small farms, and they only have 100, 200 or 300 trees.”
He buys the product of the coffee trees, called cherries, from farmers. The coffee cherries are taken to the pulping station, where the red skin is removed. Then they move on to wet processing at his washing stations. Each station employs between 100 and 150 people. Then the washed cherries are passed through a channel, divided by quality.
“We look for coffee which is light—which is bad quality—and coffee which is heavy—which is good quality,” he said. “A1 is best, A2 is more or less good coffee.” He said A3 the lowest quality. It’s repurposed for fertilizers, insect repellents or other uses.
Then the coffee spends 20 to 30 days drying under the Rwandan sun. During this time around 600 workers remove, by hand, the damaged beans.
“That is done mostly by women, which is making a big difference, because they are more careful,” Munyara said. “It is very important that every damaged bean is removed because it can affect the cup.”
After this, the coffee is dry-milled. The husk is taken off and the final product, green coffee, is ready for export. And only needs to be roasted before it’s ready to sell to consumers.
Rwandan coffee is most often sent to Belgium, Switzerland, the U.K., the U.S. and China according to the Rwanda Department of Agriculture. The department said Rwandan coffee is beginning to make a name for itself, and the majority of exported beans receive a premium price due to its high quality.
Munyana said as a farmer and community leader, he has a social responsibility.
“Any time I get a premium on the coffee, I invest it back in the community,” he said.
So far, he has paid for the construction of a new water supply for the village near his coffee tree farm, built five classrooms and is now in the process of planning a practical learning classroom.
“The classroom will be for children (so they) can learn basic sewing, cooking skills, agricultural best practices, hygiene lessons and other things,” he said. The culture of the community is important to him.
“I am a farmer, a processor and a community member,” Munyara said.
This week at the Global Farmer Network roundtable discussions, Munyara began each morning encouraging his fellow farmers to get a hot cup and support his favorite crop.
He held up his mug — “Milk, but no sugar.”