While travelling to the washing station, it immediately was clear this was a long and hard road. It took us nearly an hour by car to get to the station from the main road, while most of the women go on foot with 50 kilos of coffee beans on their head. Sometimes they even carry up to 150kg if they have a bike at their disposal. They do not have much of a choice in this matter, as the government mandates that all the coffee from a certain region goes to the washing station in that particular region. Luckily, the price per kilo has also been set by the government institution for export, NAEB, ensuring everyone gets the same opportunities. Furthermore, it encourages the farmers and our women to grow, eventually allowing them to become fully self-sufficient.
The washing station seems quite primitive. The berries and the beans are separated in a machine that resembles a goldminer’s installation. As the berries and the bad beans float, they can ensure they only collect the good ones. These undergo several processes in order to clean and peel the outer skin of the beans, after which they are put in water before the drying process begins. Workers manually pick out the low quality beans, which are often sold to locals, while the high quality beans are destined for export. To protect the beans, nobody is allowed to touch them without cleaning their hands first.
After 21 days of drying the beans are finally ready and a sample is send to NAEB. They test it and if it is approved, the washing station sells it to exporters at approximately €5 per kilo and this price has also been set by NAEB.
The whole process is rather water intensive and to ensure it is not wasted, the water is led to plantations below in the valley. These farmers also receive the waste of the installation such as the berries so they can make compost out of it to fertilize their trees. They also receive seeds from the woman that owns the station, under the condition that they resell her the produced beans. Furthermore, it helps the local population by creating a lot of jobs. During the high season, this washing plant alone employs 100 people (who can process up to 35 tons per day!). Women earn 1000 francs per day and men 1200, due to the fact that they do the heavy physical work.
So in the end, it is clear that coffee once again is one of the thriving forces of Rwanda.