Bikes on Credit
Rwanda has a major advantage over most coffee producing regions as the farmers of the country can apply maximum husbandry skills to their small coffee plots (the size of tiny gardens) where the old time Bourbon varieties still rule the roost. It is this engagement between the coffee bean farmers and their trees that results in optimum quality of their produce. However, since Rwandan coffee farming happens at such small scales, it takes around 500 different farmers to produce one single container load of exportable coffee.
Hence, the amount of organization needed by processing plants is a lot. Trucks need to be rented and then cherry collection points established for collection of cherries from farmers, and then their transportation to the washing stations or processing units. Animal transport can’t be employed due to overpopulation and paucity of biomass for feeding the animals. As a result, hundreds of farmers walk their produce from their small fields to the collection points located at good distances. Once they reach there, they need to sit and wait for the truck to arrive and then wait again for the weighing and quality control process. It is only after all this is done that the truck is loaded and dispatched.
The above procedure results in coffee cherries arriving at washing stations almost 6 to 12 hours after their picking and sorting. Such major delays in their transportation causes a lot of deterioration to the quality of coffee. Every hour that passes after picking of the cherry and before it gets de-pulped harms its quality significantly. This is because the bacteria is allowed to ferment the sugars in the cherry, leading to an off and barnyard taste in the coffee. It destroys all the hard work and TLC that farmers put into their small coffee gardens.
This is where the Coffee Bike project came into the picture. If somehow the transportation time of cherries from their respective coffee fields to the washing stations could be reduced from 6 to 12 hours to 2 to 4 hours, it would significantly increase the quality of the coffee, making more money for the farmers.
As a part of their Coffee Bike Project, Project Rwanda ensured that a large number of Rwandan coffee bean farmers received special hauling long bikes on credit for easy and quick transportation of their coffee cherries to the washing stations. These bikes were meant to help them improve the overall quality of their produce. The credit arrangement was taken care of by SPREAD (Sustaining Partnerships to Enhance Rural Enterprise and Agribusiness Development), a USAID agribusiness project. Hence, coffee bikes were loaned out to farmers via a micro-finance banking facility, allowing them to completely own these bikes in a few years’ time.