Sustainable Rwanda: Coffee Growers Diversify Crops
Six weeks ago, Josée Kabanyana's mandala garden was a tidy, walkable oasis of bushy green amaranth plants. Now, tall green bean stalks have replaced the amaranth, and it's hard to see the paths that separate the beds in this keyhole-shaped garden.
Josée crouches in one and whacks at weeds—without crushing other plants. She can do this because of the garden's efficient layout. The garden is compact yet allows easy access to frequently harvested crops grown near the paths.
Besides the beans and vitamin- and mineral-rich amaranth, Josée grows all the vegetables her family wants to eat: carrots, cabbage, eggplant and tomatoes. Everyone eats veggies twice a day. Everyone agrees that their favorite is amaranth.
It wasn't always like this.
Before Josée joined a coffee farmers' group 2 years ago, she didn't know about mandala gardens, amaranth or nutrition. She and her husband, three daughters, and an orphan girl they took in subsisted mostly on beans and potatoes, a typical Rwandan meal.
"What surprised me was learning about a balanced diet," Josée says. "I thought everything was nutritious, but it wasn't."
Now Josée is a nutrition volunteer who enjoys teaching members of her farmers' cooperative how to grow nutrient-rich foods and cook healthy meals. Catholic Relief Services in partnership with Caritas Gikongoro and funding from Keurig Green Mountain supports her group and others like it in Rwanda.
A hand up, not handout
Even when the coffee business is thriving, it isn't necessarily lucrative for growers. Josée and her husband, Fidel Nshumbusha, cultivate 40 coffee trees on 0.05 acres. Last year they harvested about 150 pounds and sold it for 30 cents per pound, for a total of $42.
CRS' goal is to help 3,600 households like Josée's improve their living standards by May 2015, when the program ends. Farmers receive vouchers to buy an animal at a livestock fair. They also learn:
Smart ways to save and borrow money through Savings and Internal Lending Communities.
New agricultural techniques through demonstration farms.
How to grow and prepare healthy foods through volunteers like Josée.
To participate, the farmers must have fewer than 100 plants and be particularly in need: They may be HIV-infected or affected by HIV in other ways, be widowed, or be extremely poor. They also must be willing and able to work with others, and be trusted in the community. The 2,800 current participants are among the poorest of the poor and struggle to see a future of self-sufficiency. Some farmers expect cash or other material goods but CRS is determined to provide a "hand up" to long-term independence.
"We don't give them money or tools. We tell them that we'll help them with knowledge but we don't give them things," said Sylvestre Niyibizi, a Caritas nutrition officer. "The purpose is, after we are gone, they will still support themselves."
'We look good'
Josée's home bustles with activity. The kids are back from school and ready for lunch. Emerance, 12, peels potatoes with her mom. Josée has prepared the amaranth and will make beans. The family's goat wanders over, and daughter Charlotte, 10, tries to shoo it away. But goats will be goats.
Fidel has been pruning the family's coffee trees but returns for lunch. Josée serves the family plates full of hot potatoes, amaranth and beans. The scene resembles a Norman Rockwell painting.
"After learning about nutrition activities, the children are not as sick," Josée says. "If you look at our family, we look good."