Rwanda has nearly 500,000 small-holder coffee producers who possess an average of 200 coffee trees each. Each small plantation is managed like a small garden and is the principal generator of cash for rural Rwanda. Depending on annual production volumes and the New York Board of Trade (NYBOT) commodity price for coffee, the Rwanda coffee sector has generated between $15 million and $35 million in annual foreign exchange earnings.
Rwanda has a comparative advantage over most coffee origins since farmers can give maximum husbandry skills to the small garden-like coffee plots where the old heirloom 'bourbon' varieties still reign. This is where quality is 'created'; the interaction between the farmer and his trees. However, because the Rwandan coffee farm is so small, it takes about 500 of them to produce one container load of exportable green coffee! The organizational burden on processing plant management is great. Trucks must be rented and cherry collection points must be installed in order to get the cherry from the farm to the processing plant or washing station. They can't use animal transport because of over population and lack of biomass to feed the animals. Hundreds of farmers walk in their cherries from their fields two to four kilometers to the collection points, they sit, they wait for the truck, they wait for weighing and quality control, they load the truck and off it goes to the washing station.
If the transport time of cherries coming from the coffee field to the washing station was reduced to from six to 12 hours down to two to four, research has shown that cup quality will increase significantly from 82/100 to 86/100 on sensory evaluation scores from which coffee price is determined. This translates into a $0.15 or higher premium per pound of green coffee sold. the Coffee Bike Project aims to make specially designed load-bearing bikes available to farmers for a reasonable price on credit and where quality premiums would cover the bike's cost. Jay Ritchey, Project Manager of the Coffee Bike Progam, describes his initial meeting with the farmers and his introduction of the program.
The Coffee Bike in action"It is natural for them to be skeptical of this foreign program, some white guy coming in and trying have them buy this bicycle. They don't know how much the bicycle is really worth, they don't know if I am trying to rip them off, for all they know I just look like another business man trying to make a as much profit as I am able off them, like so many have done before. But in this meeting I answered with clarity and passion the question and complaint of the amount of the bicycle, "Why does it have to be so expensive?" I told them that the bicycle costs $200USD to make in the factory, and costs $50 to ship here, we are not making any money. This bicycle would cost four to five times as much in Europe or the U.S. and we could make a profit, but we are not selling it there, we are selling it here and not making it a profit. Because our motive is not to make money, it is to address the issues of Rwandan coffee farmers that bar them from prospering, mainly internal transportation issues. And we are trying to make the bicycle accessible through a three-year loan. There are plenty of people in this country that could buy the bicycle upfront, but we are not selling it to them, we are selling it to you because we want to partner with you in improving your livelihoods. The buyers of your coffee in the U.S., Canada and Europe are putting money into this program because they think it will both improve your economic situation and the product that they buy and sell in their countries. The group lightened up, and a few of them stood up, and with sincerity in their voice they said they the now understand the program, and why the program was there. It was a moment of satisfaction for me, because I felt like a bond of trust and understanding was being established for the program."
The ""Coffee Bike"" was engineered specifically for transporting heavy loads of coffee. The bicycle is the perfect tool for this transport because of its lower maintenance technology and it allows growers to manage their own transport infrastructure without overly large investments. The expense to own, maintain and fuel a truck is not an economically viable option. Besides breaking down often, trucks have difficulty dealing with the dirt roads, especially when muddy. Because the quality of the crop is directly related to the time it takes to transport the cherry to the mill, it is a great advantage for the farmers to own their own transportation.