A Rwanda Coffee Farmer Story

Some ideas we’ve seen on the site are around learning more about the people who grow coffee.  I thought you would be interested in a story about a coffee farmer from Rwanda shared with me by David Browning of TechnoServe, an organization that helps entrepreneurial men and women in poor rural areas of the developing world to build businesses that create income, opportunity and economic growth for their families, their communities and their countries. http://www.technoserve.org/

Athanasie (pronounced A-ta-na-zee) is a coffee farmer, one of over three thousand Rwandan farmers that TechnoServe has assisted to produce specialty-grade coffee.  Athanasie was 20 years old and eight months pregnant when the genocide broke out in Rwanda in 1994.  She and her husband, Saidi Hakizamungu, tried to flee across the border into Tanzania but were separated in the confusion.  Athanasie gave birth to a daughter in the Benaco refugee camp in late April 1994 and named her Nzamwitakuze, which means “I will give you a name … if you survive.” 

Saidi survived the genocide and managed to reach Benaco where he was reunited with his wife and newborn daughter.  The family returned to Rwanda, but unfortunately, Saidi soon died of malaria.  Athanasie, now a widow with a young daughter, managed to work the farm and survive the subsequent years including the period from 1999-2003 when a global surplus supply of coffee led to a collapse in coffee prices.  TechnoServe helped Rwandan farmers including Athanasie to improve the quality of their coffee and receive a higher price for it.  As Athanasie told us, “The quality was so good that we sold it to Starbucks.  I received a payment for my coffee far beyond what I used to earn for ordinary quality coffee”. 

With the additional income, Athanasie chose to purchase medical insurance for herself and her family in 2007.  Earlier that year, Nzamwitakuze, fell seriously ill with a fever.  Athanasie remembers, “The fever was so strong, my daughter could not walk or eat food.” Athanasie had no money at the time, but with the medical insurance was able to take Nzamwitakuze to a nearby hospital where doctors diagnosed her with the illness that had killed her father, malaria.  Arthanasie marvels, “All I did was carry the child to the hospital and produced my medical insurance card.” Nzamwitakuze received the medical care she needed and she survived.

Athanasie is producing a higher-quality product, sought by world markets, and is being compensated with higher income in return.  Two years ago, the thought of being able to pay for Nzamwitakuze to finish high school was an impossible dream.  But Athanasie is now confident and optimistic about the future, and very determined to provide opportunities  for her daughter. “I am now able to meet expenses for my daughter’s education, and at the same time I am able to save for her secondary education in years to come”. 

Our world is filled with heroes whose stories are never told and never heard.  It is therefore, our great pleasure to share with you Athanasie’s story.

Dub Hay, svp coffee

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1/7/2009 2:10 PM

Great story.

1/8/2009 1:05 AM


Can't wait to share this story with my team.

1/8/2009 7:36 AM

I agee. This is an excellent story about Starbucks can make this world better, one cup at a time. OUSTANDING!

1/8/2009 5:11 PM

Awesome story!

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