Comic support for Rwanda’s first Fairtrade coffee

11 Feb 2005 by JR

Long after Nick dreamt up the idea of Wine Relief  which has  already raised more than £1.2 million for the UK charity Comic Relief via wine, he was invited to see some of Comic Relief’s work in Rwanda. He was struck by how good Rwandan coffee is and managed to put the coffee connoisseurs Union Coffee Roasters people together so that a delicious Fairtrade coffee was born which has helped the lives of many of the women who survived the terrible massacres in that green and beautiful African country.

Comic Relief is now urging consumers to enjoy a cup of Fairtrade Rwanda Maraba Bourbon coffee during next year’s Red Nose Day campaign to help rebuild the lives of the country’s genocide survivors.

From feb 2005, a special limited edition pack carrying the charity’s logo will go on sale to consumers in Sainsbury’s. The aim is to raise awareness of the dramatic transformation to the Rwandan community which Comic Relief helped kick start in 2001, simply by asking people to wake up to a cup of exceptionally good coffee.

Jeremy Torz, roastmaster and director at Union Coffee Roasters’ said: “This outstanding, vibrant and very flavourful coffee, which celebrates its second birthday next March, is having a profound effect on the community from which it is sourced.

“Today, the Co-operative membership stands at 1,500 – more than four times its original figure. When families are included, that means around 9,000 people have seen dramatic improvements to their lives thanks to the close relationships we have developed, and premium price we pay. Amazingly, more than 50 per cent now have access to vital healthcare; at least one child per family can attend school; and everyone has been able to invest in their homes and diversify their smallholdings for a significantly better diet.”

Coffee from Rwanda may be unfamiliar to most, but two-thirds of the country’s population is engaged in subsistence agriculture, and depend on its sale for survival. Following the genocide in 1994, and the coffee price crash of 1998, the situation in Rwanda became critical for the country’s smallholders.

Happily in 2001, the genesis of a solution was found. Spurned on by recent surges in demand for high quality coffee, a locally based non-governmental organisation began formalising a group of 350 smallholders into a producer co-operative. The aim was to improve knowledge, train and divide specialist tasks among smallholders and develop bespoke infrastructure so speciality grade coffee could be produced.

But were it not for Union Coffee Roasters’ directors Jeremy Torz and Steven Macatonia, it is doubtful whether even this fine coffee would have made it to market. The pair were so inspired by the people and improvements made to the coffee’s quality, they decided to make additional investments in the Co-operative, secure, oversee and assist with Fairtrade certification and sell the entire harvest as a directly traceable, single origin coffee.

Richard Graham, Comic Relief’s international grants director, explains why Comic Relief is supporting this project in 2005: “Here at Comic Relief, we believe fair trade provides a sustainable way for poor farmers to escape poverty. That's why we've been funding fair trade projects for more than 10 years, all over Africa.

“Many of the women who survived the Rwandan genocide were farmers. They desperately needed a chance to rebuild their lives as best they can. With Comic Relief's support to survivors, Union Coffee Roaster's passion for high quality coffee and our joint belief in Fairtrade, we can help build a small but significant success story.”

Rwanda Maraba Bourbon is the country’s first ever Fairtrade coffee and the first to be sold by designated origin (most Rwandan coffee is simply blended with other coffees). It is sold in Sainsbury’s supermarkets priced £2.75 for a 227g pack, ready ground for filters and cafetières. Packs featuring the Comic Relief logo will be on sale from February to end April 2005.


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