Dorotee Uwimbabazi has spent her whole life on coffee farms, and she is still improving her farming practices.
She recently discovered the benefits of planting shade trees in her garden; not only do they protect the coffee trees, but they also provide the perfect compost when they shed their leaves. "I think they have made my garden one of the best in my community," she beams.
Dorotee is one of around 3,500 Rwandan women who have benefitted from a program launched by Nestlé in 2016 in collaboration with the Kahawatu Foundation. Its aim is to offer training in good agricultural practices. They are taught about everything from financial literacy to global coffee prices; pruning and weeding to mulching and harvesting. What results is coffee farming that is as profitable as possible. With profit comes socio-economic empowerment and financial freedom that benefits the women themselves, the community at large and future generations.
Dorotee grew up in the mountains near Lake Kivu in the village of Kiguri, Rwanda, where both of her parents were coffee farmers. "I used to help my parents with harvesting and processing of their coffee," she explains. "After selling it, they were able to take good care of us."
So when she started raising her own family she knew that coffee offered a perfect opportunity to provide. She saved enough money to buy a plot of land with coffee trees on it and began harvesting. Dorotee's husband is a security guard who works away from home a lot. This leaves the job of running the farm to Dorotee. "He helps me on the farm indirectly because he pays for the laborers who assist me," she explains.
When Dorotee first started out on her venture she was not satisfied with her yield. But in 2016 her producer organization started working with Nestlé and the Kahawatu Foundation. What followed was training by top agronomists in best farming practices. "Before working with Kahawatu I was producing 500 kilograms or less from 700 coffee trees (about 1,2 acre)," Dorotee explains. "Now I'm expecting to produce around 600 kilograms".
But one good yield does not guarantee the long-term success of a coffee farm. The program is dedicated to genuine continuity at a community level. "They followed up with us and we also learnt how to plan well and reinvest the income from coffee," says Dorotee. "We need to plan for hiring labor, buying materials and for harvesting the next season."
It is also key that women are empowered to take leadership positions in farmer groups and on boards of local farmer organizations. Dorotee makes sure to share each and every one of her learnings with the rest of her community.
This knowledge-sharing is exactly what Nestlé hope to achieve on a global scale through the empowerment programs in Rwanda and also Kenya. Learnings can be rolled out in the future across East Africa and beyond.
Thanks to the efforts of Dorotee and female farmers like her, there will be girls who don't leave school early because they can see a different future; children who don't end up being a field worker because their mother can afford to give them a chance to go to school; families that don't go without between coffee harvests, because income and nutritional sources are diversified.
"The Kahawatu Foundation is helping to make us better farmers. But the real benefits of partnering with them is that it has enabled me to take care of my children's wellbeing," says Dorotee. "I've been able to buy them school uniform and pay for them to go to school. I have big hopes that thanks to coffee I will be able to pay for their education until they all finish their studies. I am a happy woman in a happy home because of coffee."