Westrock Coffee Chases ‘Social Impact' in Rwanda

by Kate Knable  on Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 12:00 am  

For example, the company provides extension services to the farmers without requiring the farmers to commit to working with Rwanda Trading.

Rwanda Trading Co. buys coffee beans from about 75,000 farmers in the East African country.

The company spends about $50 per farmer per year on basic agronomy training.

“We do it because they need to earn more income off of the small amount of land and the small amount of coffee trees they have,” Smith said. “There’s really a lot to be taught. There’s a huge knowledge gap in farming practices here, and really across all of Africa.”

The company’s hope is that the farmers will improve their crops as they learn about fertilizer application, organic mulching, pruning and harvesting techniques, Smith said.

As the farmers improve their crops, the trading company can pay more for it.

Essentially, two qualities of coffee come out of Rwanda, based on how the coffee is harvested and cleaned, Smith said. About 70 percent of the coffee sold from Rwanda is called “ordinary,” and it’s used in cheaper coffees like Folgers.

“Fully washed” is coffee delivered to traders the day it is harvested, processed at washing stations and later used in premium coffees. Fully washed coffee gets sold to the likes of Starbucks and Westrock uses it for its premium, Westrock Coffee-branded coffees.

The trading company employs 85 full-time workers, including an agronomist and 20 field agents, and 250 seasonal workers. All but about five of the in-country employees are Rwandan.

The 20 field agents train individual farmers, who in turn train 30-50 other farmers.

The trading company also operates four washing stations in Rwanda.

“We’re already known as a good specialty source from Rwanda, because that’s been our focus since day one, and we’re going to continue that route,” Smith said.

Westrock is nurturing the premium coffee industry in Rwanda because with that coffee “more of the value stays in Rwanda,” Smith said. “On the retail end, you make the same amount whether it’s ordinary or specialty. The margins stay pretty fixed all the way through the supply chain.”



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