New Zealand coffee companies help flood-ravaged coffee farmers in Rwanda
For a small country, New Zealand punches well above its weight in the coffee world.
New Zealand created the flat white, started many respected specialty coffee companies globally, and the country’s cool
little capital city has the most cafes per capita in the world. But do we know where our coffee beans come from?
In recent years there has been piqued interest from the New Zealand cafe scene in coffee grown in Rwanda. While these
coffee beans are often used as a single origin specialty coffee on request, you may have also been drinking it without
For example, Wellington roastery Flight Coffee uses Rwandan beans as a component in all of their blends - that is,
anything you order without specifying the origin of the coffee. In doing so, they have been a huge supporter of bringing
coffee beans grown in Rwanda to New Zealand through supply chains that help producers receive stable, sustainable
But after catastrophic events, Rwandan suppliers are in jeopardy, and New Zealand coffee companies have reached out to
While much of the media was devoting its attention to COVID-19
in early May, various coffee-growing regions throughout East Africa were also being hammered by steady downpours, flash
flooding, and landslides.
Nyabihu, a small community in Northern Rwanda, whose communities rely heavily on coffee for their livelihoods, are now
trying to pick up the pieces after being hit by a double whammy - COVID-19 and mass flooding.
Nyabihu District is home to two coffee washing stations, Shyira and Vunga. New Zealand-owned, Muraho Trading Company
(MTCo.) started Shyira and partnered with Vunga in 2017. MTCo’s aim is to improve living standards for the Nyabihu
communities, while showcasing the best of Rwandan coffee around the world.
MTCo imports coffee via Wellington-based social enterprise Raw Material, to supply prominent New Zealand roasteries,
including Flight Coffee, Rich Coffee Roasters, and Vanguard Specialty Coffee co. MTCo and Raw Material have teamed up
with coffee buyers from around the world to raise funds through a GoFundMe page. https://www.gofundme.com/f/Rwandan-landslide
Flight Coffee is also giving a cut of every Rwandan coffee sold to help the Nyabihu community.
“Resources are thin on the ground in the best of times… but with COVID-19 taking its toll on the economy, our friends in
Rwanda are relying on us to hear their request for help. Major infrastructure is being rebuilt by the government, but
our support is needed on a more personal level; immediately this means clothes, shelter, food and water. We kiwis are
known worldwide as helpful, friendly, sustainability-conscious people, and I think we’ll rally together for this cause
as we always do. Especially given how close we are, how interdependent our communities are through coffee,” says Matt
Graylee of Raw Material.
In the May floods, 28 people from Nyabihu District lost their lives. In addition, 325 homes, livestock, coffee trees,
and other crops were all washed away. Vital community and utility infrastructure have been destroyed including 36
classrooms, 12 churches, a healthcare centre, the Vunga market, and electrical and water supplies.
“These floods and mudslides were the worst catastrophic event in our lifetimes. We lost friends and families. Almost
everyone in Nyabihu is affected; houses, roads, bridges, crops in fields, and animals were all impacted,” says Evariste
Hagumimana, manager of Shyira coffee washing station.
Coffee farmer Mbarushima Alphonse from Shyira lost everything in the landslides. He shared, “We are sheltering in
classrooms. Everything is gone. We really thank you for showing us that we are together and trying to help us – about
this we are very happy.”
Muraho Trading Co is a specialty coffee producing company run by Gaudam and Karthick Anbalagan - two kiwi brothers that call Rwanda home.
Shyira coffee washing station is one out of four owned by Muraho. The company has also developed partnerships with other
stations across Rwanda such as Vunga cooperative in 2017. Muraho is dedicated to supporting the wellbeing of Rwandans
and Rwanda through coffee, and works with partners locally and globally to achieve this.
Raw Material is a social enterprise focused on impact for coffee farming communities worldwide. 100% of the profit they generate
goes to producers, directly through payments for coffee and through community-level investments. Raw Material works with
a network of smallholder farmers and dedicated global coffee buyers to facilitate trade at stable, sustainable prices
while improving coffee quality, yields and community outcomes. A little bit famous in underground development circles
for extremely low-cost, high-impact investments.
Flight Coffee is a specialty coffee roasting company based in Wellington NZ.
Rwandan coffee has a rich, fruity flavour profile. These delicious characteristics are in large part a result of the great growing
conditions found across the “Land of a Thousand Hills”. Most farms rest between 1700 and 2000 metres above sea level,
with nitrogen-rich volcanic soils. This helps to add complexity, sweetness, and acidity. However, these regions are also
increasingly prone to climate-change related events.
Fundraising and investment
Through interviews with hundreds of community members on the ground, the response plan and estimate of cost has been
developed with three phases. Full details including a transparent, public, live Google Sheet of estimates and spend as
it happens is available at https://www.gofundme.com/f/Rwandan-landslide
Phase 1) Meet immediate needs: estimate NZD $65,000
- Support removal of debris and isolate risks of further landslides
- Deliver food and potable water
- Provide clothing, blankets and basic hygiene products for those in need
Phase 2) Support recovery: estimate NZD $197,000
- Rebuild houses (e.g., roofing sheets, concrete, reinforcing steel)
- Replant crops (e.g., coffee seedlings, fertilizer, preparing the land)
- Replace livestock and related infrastructure (e.g., fencing, sheds)
- Provide food and income support while livelihoods recover
Phase 3) Build resilience. Starting the process: estimate NZD $203,000
- Upgrade housing to improve health and safety (e.g., sealed floors - dirt floors are the norm and our baseline for
phase 2, gas cooking stoves - eliminate smoke and related illness, solar power, etc)
- Invest in certified seeds, plants, inputs needed to improve resilience to landslides (e.g., reforestation)
- Provide training on practices to improve land management (e.g., terracing, drainage)
- Rebuild infrastructure for greater resilience to future climate events (e.g., retaining walls)
- Support to help restore community emotional wellbeing through social events