If you've had the honour of meeting Heath Cater, you'll know he's a bit of a legend. He's our GOD (Group Operation Director) and has been with Supreme for 22 years. He's also a member of our green buying team. Heath's been visiting Rwanda and hanging out with the growers for years, so we asked him to pen some insights for us. Over to Heath...
They call Rwanda the land of 1000 hills. It’s a beautiful place, even majestical some would say. It’s truly one of the most scenic countries I have visited to source green coffee. Rwanda’s beauty is not restricted to the coffee farms — the amazingly manicured tea plantations, that cover the winding hills for as far as the eye can see, play an integral role too.
However the land has not always known beauty, Rwanda has a very checkered past, culminating with the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Many movies and written pieces about this dark time in Rwanda’s history make for sobering viewing and reading. Personally, for me, I am in awe of how positive, friendly and welcoming the Rwandan people are, considering the tragedies they have been faced with, and the strides the country has made since this time.
The Gitesi Project — a great initiative
Rwandan coffee began to gain importance after international taste tests pronounced it among the best in the world. Now, Rwanda earns revenue from coffee and tea exports.
Gitesi is a private washing station owned and run by Alexis and Aime Gahizi, a father and son duo. Located in the Gitesi Sector of Western Rwanda, the washing station was built in 2005 and began processing coffee in 2006.
‘What’s a washing station?’ I hear you asking… Well, it can get very complicated but in short, washing stations act as a delivery point for coffee cherry. The coffee is weighed in cherry form and this is the initial way to determine payment for the farmers. This process alone has multiple steps: a machine removes the cherry from the outside of the coffee bean, the beans are then floated to remove substandard coffee, next, is the fermentation stage and then onto a drying bed before it is packed and sent to the mill for processing.
Coffee Supreme have been buying coffee from Rwanda for six years. I’ve been lucky enough to head over there three times. We look forward to buying and receiving our Rwandan coffees every year. These are a crucial component of our blends and a much-awaited single origin coffee too.
The Gitesi Project was started four years ago by Tim Williams of Bureaux Collective in Melbourne, in partnership with Alexis and Aime Gahizi (the owners of the Gitesi Washing Station). Pretty promptly, Tim invited us to take part in the project, naturally, we jumped at it. There were many reasons we were excited to be involved, but one of the biggest attractions was the out of the box approach to helping communities in the area.
Let us unpack this a little for you. The idea behind the Gitesi Project is to raise money to buy cows for coffee producers — we’ll get onto the benefits of the cows in a minute. Roasters around Australia and New Zealand are approached to be involved, they then roast, pack and sell the coffee and all of the proceeds go back to the Gitesi community. It helps that the coffee is delicious, but it's about way more than the coffee.
Let’s talk about the cows. In the last four years, 54 families have been provided with a cow, a shelter for the cow, and additionally, their vet costs have been covered. On top of this, 100 families have been able to afford health insurance. Over time the aim of the Project is to reduce the reliance of the household’s financial wellbeing on coffee. The cows also provide benefits in many other ways. First, the unpredictability of coffee has less of an effect on each family’s wellbeing, because protein and nutrition can be sourced through milk from the cows. Furthermore, not only are families less affected, instead, their general wellbeing improves, as they have constant access to vital nutrients. Secondly, Tim hopes to see an increase in the incomes of cow-owning households, as excess milk is sold and becomes a secondary income stream.
This an amazing project that provides us with clear positive changes to an entire community. It's a pleasure for us to give a small amount of time and effort, which in turn allow us to see huge benefits.