Twongere Kawa Coko may be a very small cooperative, but in Rwanda, describing anything as “small” is missing the point. Rwanda roared to int...
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Twongere Kawa Coko may be a very small cooperative, but in Rwanda, describing anything as “small” is missing the point. Rwanda roared to international buyer attention in the late aughts thanks to one of East Africa’s most successful coffee interventions, the Partnership for Enhancing Agriculture in Rwanda Through Linkages (PEARL). PEARL, a sweeping infrastructure and education investment that vastly increased processing hygiene and organized disparate smallholders into businesses capable of specialty partnerships, took the legacy bourbon genetics buried in abandon and polished them anew to the amazement of coffee drinkers everywhere. In the past decade, Rwanda, one of the most rapidly modernizing countries on the continent has built steadily on top of these first coffees, and we as buyers now have an awe-inspiring reference for how snappy, mouth-watering, and kaleidoscopic the bourbon lineage can be. Many specialty buyers of Rwanda coffees are familiar with the more famous lakeside cooperatives in the Western Province. Which is no coincidence, as these groups are generally more established, larger, and have been fully washing their coffees for longer, due to the ample ground hydration throughout lake Kivu’s enormous watershed. Cooperatives from the Northern province, therefore, are often later-discovered, and beloved for their acid-forward cup profiles, reminiscent more of the smaller coops in the Southern province than the jammier profiles of the West. Twongere Kawa Coko is one of these cooperatives. Not only is it lesser-known and lesser-traveled as a region for buyers, the cooperative is also certified organic—extremely rare for Rwanda, a still-young specialty market where means and access to organic inputs and chains of custody are still very rare. Sample this one before it goes. The cooperative’s President, Thérèse Nyrangwabije, is very proud to say that it has to represent a community with a majority of female members. There have been impressive improvements in infrastructure over recent the past years, including a new office and parchment store. The old coffee store is now being used for women’s handicraft and sewing classes to help women earn an extra income outside the coffee season. In her own words, “I set up the cooperative to help local women, and even today, we have a majority of female members here. In Rwanda, it’s the women who are most involved in their households – so when you help them, you help their whole family. It makes me very proud to be one of the few female cooperative presidents, but it’s also something I’d like to see change in the future. During my working life, I’ve defied expectations to earn the trust and respect of my colleagues and the community, so that’s something I’d like to see happen for the women of the cooperative, too.”
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