Bugoyi Natural - Rutsira, Rwanda

Bugoyi Natural - Rutsira, Rwanda

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PRODUCERS:
Total delivering to station - 1300 smallholders
 Total within this lot - 7 smallholders

NAMES of FARMERS CONTRIBUTING 
FAUSTIN KIMANGA 
EZECHIAS BYIYINGOMA 
ASTERIE MUKABAGWIZA 
ZANTIJE UWASE 
ALEXIS MAZEYO 
VERIYANA RWABANJENDE 
JEAN MBITSEMUNDA 

PROCESSING STATION: Bugoyi
LOCATION: Rutsiro District, Western Province
HARVEST: April - June
STATION OWNER: Baho Coffee / Emmanuel Rusatira
EXPORTER: Baho Coffee / Emmanuel Rusatira
IMPORTER: Sundog Trading
ALTITUDE of FARMS: 1500 - 1900 masl
VARIETY: Red Bourbon
PROCESSING: Natural
AVERAGE FARM SIZE: 0.25 hectares
AVERAGE AGE OF TREES: 17 years old
EXPECTED VOLUME per TREE: 2.8 kg 
2021 AVERAGE TOTAL HARVEST VOLUME: 1,379 kg per farm (decrease from 1,486 kg in 2020)

PRICE TRANSPARENCY

2021 Rwanda national farmgate price - 245 rwf/kg (increase from 216 rwf/kg in 2020)
2021 Baho average farmgate price, paid at Bugoyi - 450 rwf/kg (increase from 300 rwf/kg in 2020) + 50 rwf/kg second payment
2021 FOT Kigali price, paid to Baho Coffee for Bugoyi Natural - 3.52 usd/lb (increase from 3.26 usd/lb in 2020)

BUGOYI  STATION

Bugoyi is located in the Western Province of Rwanda - near the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo and directly on the shores of Lake Kivu.  This region generally receives very soft sunlight and cool winds coming off the lake, which Emmanuel praises as the driving force behind the particularly even drying at Bugoyi.

Built in 2012 and purchased by Baho in 2016, Bugoyi is Emmanuel’s largest station producing predominantly specialty coffee.  Bugoyi collects cherry from around 1300 farmers, produces 1300 bags of exportable coffee annually, and employs 187 people at the peak of the season. Along with Fugi, this is the first station that Emmanuel focused on when launching the Baho operations.

Average production volume on the small plots surrounding this station are quite low at only around 1.5 kg cherry per tree.  This is mostly attributed to the extremely old trees in the area; many have been in production for close to 30 years.  Emmanuel has been focusing heavily on growing Baho’s seedling distribution in this area, and nearly 13,000 seedlings were distributed to the farmers within this group alone during the 2021 season.

The 2021 Bugoyi Natural is not a specific lot separation from Baho’s appellation project; rather, it’s a classic station level blend of multiple farmers from different areas surrounding Bugoyi. Nonetheless, because of Baho’s extremely detailed cherry collection records, we were still able to verify which growers delivered cherry on the specific days that make up this lot.

As is standard practice for Baho-owned stations - training, inputs, and substantial contributions towards health insurance premiums are provided for all farmers delivering. Each station has an agronomist on site that organizes training sessions focused on topics such as coffee plant care (fertilizing, pruning, harvesting, etc), importance of our traceability efforts, and environmental protection. Various inputs like fertilizers and new coffee seedlings are provided free of cost to all farmers. Baho is involved a step further here as well - helping farmers with transportation to gather materials and lending tools/equipment when necessary.

PROCESSING

The initial steps for each process are the same:  First, a day of intensive sorting at the cherry stage, under complete shade, to ensure only the ripest are chosen and any visible defects are removed.  Step two is multiple rounds of floating - filling a large container with cherries and water, discarding the less dense cherries that float to the top of the tank.  The densest coffees (sinkers) are reserved to be processed as the higher grade lots, and the less dense coffees (floaters) are mixed in with the rejected cherries from the initial sorting to be processed as lower grade lots.  It’s expected that cherries are delivered to stations, on average, between 2 to 3 hours from picking. 

The highest quality cherries are packed into sealed plastic bags, placed in the shade, and left overnight - around 18 hours in total. The idea behind this step is to rapidly start the fermentation process and increase complexity via a short period in a low oxygen environment. The following morning, coffee cherries are spread out onto raised beds to begin the drying process.  The goal is for cherries to be a single layer on the beds, maximum 2 - 4 cm of depth. Each station has calculated exactly what volume will fit perfectly on their sized tables to achieve this. 

For the first 5 days, the coffee is turned every hour.  From day 5 to day 20, coffee is turned every 2 hours. From day 20+, the coffee and ambient temperature are strictly monitored to keep the rate of drying slow and controlled. Temperature is recorded throughout the day - if it exceeds certain thresholds, workers will focus on turning coffee more frequently and/or cover the beds with mesh netting to slow down the process.

This focus on extremely thin layers, coupled with frequent turning and temperature monitoring, is to ensure that the flavors remain clean and free from over-fermentation or mold defects.  When the moisture content reaches the target of 10.5 - 11.0%, the drying phase is considered complete.  The dried cherry is bagged and stored in a dry warehouse at Bugoyi until time for milling.  Total drying time for the 2021 Bugoyi Natural is 64 days.

Emmanuel often compares his drying methods to that of a low and slow style of cooking. Generally speaking, particularly with grilling meat or simmering a stew, cooking gently with a low heat for a long period of time will produce an end product with more cohesive, sweet, saturated flavors. He explains: When you take meat and you put it on charcoal, after 20 min you have your meat ready. But in an oven, it would take 45 minutes. If you put it in hot ash, it may take two hours. When you taste these three meats, there's a difference in the taste. I have this kind of thinking that coffees that dry slowly, the taste and lifespan of this coffee may be longer and more delicious than the coffee that dries for 10-12 days in sun.

FARMER FIRST PREMIUM PROGRAM / ADDITIONAL PAYMENTS
The 2020 season marked our first year directly contributing to second payments via our newly established Farmer First Premium Program (FFPP).  We increased our FOT price (paid to Baho Coffee) by 0.20 usd/kg above our initial established price for all coffees purchased. Emmanuel isolated this money and dispersed it as additional payments to farmers later in the year. 

The Rwanda National Agricultural Export Board (NAEB) sets a nationally mandated farmgate price for cherry each year, with the goal of reducing predatory buying practices.  This has undoubtedly increased wages for the majority of farmers across the country, but it hinders some station owners by also creating a price ceiling in an attempt to establish market parity.  Emmanuel personally experienced crossing this line in 2018, when he received a letter from the government demanding that he lower prices or else be fined. We’ve learned over the past few years that getting more money into the hands of farmers isn’t quite as simple as raising prices at the station.  

Baho has adopted a second payment system as a workaround to this issue.  Giving farmers additional compensation later in the year means that you can go off the official books. Through the FFPP, we’re hoping to provide more consistency to the system by setting aside specific amounts of money each season to pay Baho’s producer partners more and more. The increased level of traceability that Baho has been able to achieve is making this process much easier, as we can now begin with specific small groups to implement the program.  We’ve started small as we explore the best system to implement payments like this fairly, but we hope to scale everything up as we grow together in the future and continue to explore Rwandese farmers’ costs of living.

We witnessed a unique scenario during the 2021 harvest where increased market demand and low production volume led to a countrywide spike in prices and extreme competition amongst stations to collect cherries. To fulfill their contracts, commodity focused stations were suddenly paying at levels equal to Baho’s 2020 cherry prices (which at the time were far above average) for any quality level. This meant Baho had to (a) increase prices even further and (b) start accepting more of a variety of cherry ripeness levels. Emmanuel estimates that 30-35% of coffee delivered this season had to be sorted out to achieve their standards. He saw this put a much larger than usual strain on the workforce at washing stations; and because of these factors, all Baho station management staff were paid an additional 2 months of their salary as a bonus for the 2021 season. 

Furthermore, Baho has planned to distribute at least an additional 50 rwf/kg to the Bugoyi farmers this year. We’re in active talks with Emmanuel now on how Sundog can make another direct contribution on top of our contracted prices paid. In addition to helping guarantee that second payments are a normal occurrence for all groups we purchase from, we’re exploring specific projects to allocate money towards in future seasons. Stay tuned! And please reach out if getting directly involved on this level is ever of interest to you! 

BAHO COFFEE
Baho’s vision on community is guided by having a synergetic relationship with the community of farmers that we work with, where we guide them and create solutions in a replicable, sustainable and scalable manner leading to economic growth and poverty reduction. ⁣Our overall vision is implied by the meaning of our name, Baho, which in our local language means live/life. It is like a tree that grows up and has branches, flowers and fruits and still keeps its roots in the ground. Baho is born, grows up and sells coffee both locally and internationally and never forgets the origin. 
(Emmanuel Rusatira)

After nearly 20 years of experience establishing and managing washing stations throughout Rwanda for a large export company, Emmanuel Rusatira and his family decided to branch out and start their own operations.  Establishing Baho Coffee allowed Emmanuel to freely focus energy towards implementing his own philosophies and pushing high quality protocols at washing stations that he saw as direct investments for both his family and for the communities that they’re located within.

Coffee production in Rwanda works very similarly to most other countries in Africa, whereas thousands of smallholder farmers deliver cherry to centralized processing stations.  Because the average farm size is less than a hectare, volumes per farmer are extremely low; and thus, selling to washing stations makes much more financial sense than building costly personal mills. In 2017, Baho Coffee was launched with just two washing stations. They’ve now grown (and continue to grow!)  to operate 7 different stations, with representation in each province of the country.  

We are continually inspired by Emmanuel's genuine curiosity, passion for quality, and focus on community building.  At a handful of stations he is not only producing extremely clean natural and honey processed coffees, but also pushing processing boundaries with experimental fermentation techniques (all of which are still very rare for Rwanda).  Furthermore, Emmanuel is impressively proactive with education and outreach.  He works closely with producers year round - distributing seedlings, educating on proper growing and picking techniques, giving loans for infrastructure or quality of life investments, and generally being a positive force in the community and friend to all.

A major milestone was achieved in 2021, as Baho established their first lab! We believe that this is a huge step towards increasing the quality of Baho’s coffees. Having a dedicated space for green analysis and tasting each lot together with an established staff will help the entire team understand their coffees much better in the coming years.  Many plans are in the works to train and calibrate with Emmanuel’s lab team in the future, with the goal of better communication and information sharing in real time throughout the harvest.

RWANDA COFFEE SECTOR
The crop was first introduced by German missionaries as early as 1904, but became more commercialized in the 1930s under Belgian colonial rule.  At this time, coffee was grown with only a focus on volume and without any concern for quality — likely inspired by the efforts in the past century, such as that of the Dutch in Indonesia. 

After Rwanda gained its independence in the early 1960s, the coffee sector persisted under this same model of low quality / high volume, but it was now at the mercy of a new monopoly - Rwandex - a single company that controlled the vast majority of coffee production and export.
Throughout this era, nearly all coffee was being sold as “semi-washed”.  This is a processing method similar to what is still commonly seen in Indonesia and some parts of the Americas — coffee cherries are depulped manually, or with small machines, and the seeds are then sold with the mucilage still intact to middlemen paying bottom-of-the-barrel prices. Their role was to finish drying the coffee and pass it along the complex, meandering supply chain.  After making pit stops along an extensive line of intermediaries, the coffee would eventually make its way to a handful of large international buyers who purchased the finished product for equally low prices.  This went on for decades.  Then, following years of consistent political turmoil, a major economic crisis in the 1980s, and the devastating genocide of 1994, the coffee sector was left completely dismantled.

As Rwanda began to rebuild in the late 1990s, the focus was placed on specific sectors that could generate revenue and employment.  The Rwandese government, with the support of international NGOs, set their sights on revitalizing coffee production.  Looking to other successful coffee-producing countries for inspiration on how they might change the international reputation of their coffee, they came to two conclusions — (1) washed coffee would lead to higher quality and (2) higher quality would make coffee a valuable commodity to the Rwanda economy.  Since the early 2000s,  the focus has been concentrated on the construction of washing stations throughout the country and attempting to put Rwandese coffee on the global map.  The results have been quite staggering.  Prior to the genocide, there were only two washing stations in all of Rwanda, and today there are 315! 

In order to overcome the predatory buying practices that had prevailed during former production models, the National Agricultural Export Board (NAEB) set a national standard for price per kilo of cherry to be paid to farmers at washing stations.  Across the board, coffee quality was undoubtedly raised and producers began to make more money; however, troubling patterns continued to persist.  In those days of colonial development of the coffee industry, Rwandese people made little off their labor and watched as the profits sailed away from their shores.  Still today, two major buyers have a similar control of the market. With a total purchasing power that claims nearly 50% of all coffee produced annually, they are able to make serious demands (i.e. these majority stakeholders have the ability to influence the national farmgate price).  This type of manipulation is exactly what NAEB has been trying to curb.  The implementation of fixed farmgate price might seem strange to us in the specialty world, who believe more in the notion of premiums for quality; however, in a case where certain parties have such great economic power, standardized prices serve to protect smallholders from exploitation.   Though the newly increased quality has undoubtedly improved the reputation of Rwandese coffee, 50% of coffee production is still being sold as commercial grade for low prices and 70% is still controlled by major multinationals.  Sadly, even amongst a focus on specialty grade production, a large portion is continually managed by foreign companies; therefore, much of the profit from coffee continues to leave the country. 

The Rwanda coffee sector is unique in that it’s extremely small, which means that it’s possible for buyers to have a serious impact on the entire market.  With an average annual export of between 267,000 - 400,000 bags, Rwandese coffee is a drop in the bucket of world coffee production.  For context -  Costa Rica, considered the smallest producer in Central America, produces 1.6 million bags annually, and Colombia produces 15 - 18 million annually.  Coffee represents 25% of Rwanda’s total export economy, meaning that the government's efforts to make coffee a valuable sector for profit and employment generation has reaped huge benefits. The potential for impacting the overall economic well-being of the country is possible via coffee, but it must be optimized for that purpose.  First and foremost, we believe that more profit must go to locals rather than major multinationals; and secondly, quality and prices must continue to increase.  

We’re excited to be working with Baho Coffee for these very reasons.  Emmanuel is one of a very small group of Rwandese people who are exporting their own coffee; this means that profits are remaining within the country and are being reinvested back into people and communities.  There is a deep level of commitment and respect between Emmanuel, his employees, and the farmers who deliver to Baho stations.  Unlike many multinational companies, he is directly invested in the future of his own country.  Working with and buying from Baho Coffee is meaningful to us in many ways; but at the heart of it all, we’re simply trying to support the Rwanda coffee sector by purchasing Rwandese coffee from Rwandese people.  Through this, we’re able to serve as a transparent link connecting roasteries in North America to beautiful coffees from Rwanda.