As far as I’m concerned, being Head of Coffee is a pretty sweet gig. If you’re into travel, coffee cupping and sharing hidden coffee gems with your fellow coffee-lovers, you’d probably enjoy it as much as I do. But – bragging aside – one of my favourite things about my job is getting to know the farmers we work with.
Recently, on a trip to Rwanda, I was reunited with one of my all-time favourites. Epiphanie Mukashyaka is hands-down one of the most inspiring, down-to-earth people on the specialty coffee scene. The beans she produces approach the divine and the story of how she came to be where she is now is certainly one that’s worth telling.
Coffee as a lifeline.
Epiphanie’s introduction to growing coffee came through her late husband. They had a small-scale coffee farm of their own; their coffee was sold locally, it was nothing too flash but they got by. Then in 1994 tragedy struck and genocide left Epiphanie a widow with seven children to care for. Coffee was all she knew but she couldn’t run the farm alone. Something had to change, so she appealed PEARL and USAID for help, and after a great deal of hard work she launched Bufcoffee Ltd.
The hard work paid off. Bufcoffee now produces and exports coffee across the world, while offering social and economic support to 4,608 women and a great many small coffee farmers.
Standing up for the little guy.
Bufcoffee’s ethos ties in closely with ours here at Pact. Epiphanie quickly realised that, by reducing the number of people in the supply chain between the farmer and exporter, she could increase the amount of money paid to coffee growers. One of her first steps in doing this was to open the Remera Washing Station in 2003 (in doing so Epiphanie became the first woman to own a coffee washing station in Rwanda).
More stations soon followed, all of which process coffee cherries from as many as 7,000 small farms in the Bufundo region of Rwanda today. Without those stations these small farmers could not process their cherries to such a high standard and would be forced to sell them at an unfairly low price.
Keeping it in the family.
As well as inspiring countless women across Rwanda, Epiphanie has been an incredible role-model to her own daughters; two of Epiphanie’s daughters now own their own export businesses, whilst another has recently become the supervisor at the family’s newest washing station. Epiphanie’s son, Sam has also gone into the family business and now oversees the day to day management of Bufcoffee, which is currently expanding into neighbouring provinces of Rwanda, leaving Epiphanie to concentrate on her real passion…
A day with Epiphanie.
She may have been crowned Africa’s Most Influential Women in Business and Government but Epiphanie has never forgotten where she came from. Spending time with her means lots of travel and lots of getting your hands dirty. Following her prayers each morning, Epiphanie busies herself checking on the night’s coffee deliveries and ensuring that everything is running smoothly with processing. Then she likes nothing more than calling on each of the Bufcoffee washing stations, working closely with coffee producers on ways they can improve both the quality and quantity of the cherries they produce.
Basically she never stops. And she’s not some enthusiastic amateur, her coffees have won several prestigious awards, including the Golden Cup in 2007, and Cup of Excellence in 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2014. I’m really proud to be able to call Epiphanie a friend and to be able to bring her coffees to the Pact menu. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
By Will Corby