Musasa washing station lies at 1,526 meters above sea level in the high-altitude hills of the Congo Nile Trail – practically on the banks of Lake Kivu. The Trail features 227 kilometer (141 miles) of beautiful landscapes, including rolling hills and clear water. The washing station began operations in 2013 and since then has gone from strength to strength, including a Cup of Excellence win in 2011.
1,750 growers deliver to Musasa, around 23% of whom are under the age of 35. Musasa sees these young growers, the youngest of whom is only 20, as the future of Rwandan coffee. Although farm sizes are small, at only around 0.18 hectares on average, farmers receive regular training in organic composting, renovation, harvesting techniques and other agricultural practices that ensure optimal growth for their small farms. The utmost care is taken with quality from the very beginning.
All farmers delivering to Musasa station live within a 15 kilometre radius. After selectively hand-harvesting their coffee, they transport the cherries to the washing station using a variety of means. Cherries are then inspected and hand-sorted to remove any damaged cherries or underripes before they are weighed and loaded into the station’s pulper. Farmers receive a payment in line with the quality and quantity delivered.
After sorting, cherry is delivered to one of the washing station’s 300 drying tables. Once here, the cherry will be turned every 30 minutes initially and covered during the hottest part of the day. Despite its turbulent history, today Rwanda is one of the specialty coffee world’s darlings – for good reason!
German missionaries and settlers brought coffee to Rwanda in the early 1900s. Largescale coffee production was established during the 1930 & 1940s by the Belgian colonial government. Coffee production continued after the Belgian colonists left. By 1970, coffee had become the single largest export in Rwanda and accounted for 70% of total export revenue. Coffee was considered so valuable that, beginning in 1973, it was illegal to tear coffee trees out of the ground.
Between 1989 and 1993, the breakdown of the International Coffee Agreement (ICA) caused the global price to plummet. The Rwandan government and economy took a hard hit from low global coffee prices. The 1994 genocide and its aftermath led to a complete collapse of coffee exports and vital USD revenue, but the incredible resilience of the Rwandan people is evident in the way the economy and stability have recovered since then.
Modern Rwanda is considered one of the most stable countries in the region. Since 2003, its economy has grown by 7-8% per year and coffee production has played a key role in this economic growth. Coffee has also played a role in Rwanda’s significant advancements towards gender equality. New initiatives that cater to women and focus on helping them equip themselves with the tools and knowledge for farming have been changing the way women view themselves and interact with the world around them.
Today, smallholders propel the industry in Rwanda forward. The country doesn’t have any large estates. Most coffee is grown by the 400,000+ smallholders, who own less than a quarter of a hectare. The majority of Rwanda’s coffee production is Arabica. Bourbon variety plants comprise 95% of all coffee trees cultivated in Rwanda.