Rwanda Buf Umurage

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Region:  Huye District
Owner:  Epiphanie Mukashyaka
Producer:  514 smallholding farms
Altitude:  1,750 m.a.s.l.
Process:  Fully Washed
Varietal:  Red Bourbon

Silky mouthfeel, treacle and honey sweetness, with a soft apple acidity.

Umurage is Buf Cafés third washing station – along with the renowned Remera and Nyarusiza. The company, which was serving less than 500 farmers in 2003, is now procuring coffee cherries from almost 7,000 smallholder farmers in the Southern province of Rwanda, among them 1,069 are registered members. Umrage alone purchases coffee cherries from 412 registered smallholder farmers, as well as three different local cooperatives. Many of these farmers had been supplying coffee cherries to be processed at Remera and Nyarusiza washing stations. However, since these CWSs were located quite far away from many in the Huye District, Buf decided to construct a CWS close to them. It was in this 2017 season that Umurage CWS was constructed reducing the burden of farmers travelling large distances supplying their coffee.

Almost all these small producers have inherited their very small coffee farms from their parents and had been farming coffee for decades, but for very little money. In part, this was an infrastructure to quality issue. Prior to 2002, their production was mostly home processed, resulting in semi-washed coffees with low market value. After 2000, with the introduction of wet mills in Rwanda, home processing began to take a back seat, as farmers saw higher returns from supplying cherries to CWSs. When Buf came on the scene, this situation was sealed, and the relationships between Buf and the local communities that supply the washing stations keep getting stronger and stronger. Buf provide numerous jobs for locals. Around 127 at Remera during peak harvest (May - June/July) and 10 permanent positions A further 116 people are employed at Nyarusiza during harvest, with 9 permanent positions. (2014 figures) Furthermore, at the end of each season Buf will share any surplus profits with both the cooperatives that it works with and its washing station managers.

Recently, Buf integrated farmers that they work with into different groups each composed of 30 to 60 farmers. Through these groups, farmers are trained in good agricultural practices to improve their coffee quality and quantity while conserving the environment. The majority of the small farmers in the area have an average of only 300 coffee trees (less than a quarter of a hectare) and use some of their land to cultivate other crops such as maize and beans to feed themselves and their families. Most of their income from the sale of coffee is used to take their children to school, pay for medical care and for investment in livestock such as a cow for milk, both for use in the home and for sale locally. Access to training and information that can help to increased yeilds through the new program has the potential to be transformational.

The level of care that all Buf washing stations take over their processing is impressive. Cherries are hand-picked only when fully ripe and then pulped that same evening using a mechanical pulper that divides the beans into three grades by weight.

After pulping, the coffee is fermented overnight (for around 12-18 hours) and then graded again using flotation channels that sort the coffee by weight (the heaviest – or A1 – usually being the best). The wet parchment is then soaked in water for around 24 hours to stabilise moisture content.

As at most washing stations in Rwanda, women do the majority of the hand sorting. This takes place in two stages - on the covered pre-drying tables and on the drying tables. Washed beans are moved from the wet fermentation tanks onto the pre-drying tables, where they are intensively sorted under shade for around six hours. The idea is that greens (unripes) are still visible when the beans are damp, while the roofs over the tables protect the beans from the direct sunlight. Next, the beans are moved onto the washing station’s extensive drying tables for around 14 days (depending on the weather), where they are sorted again for defects, turned regularly and protected from rain and the midday sun by covers, ensuring both even drying and the removal of any damaged or ‘funny looking’ beans. After reaching 11% humidity, the coffee is then stored in parchment in Remera’s purpose-built warehouse prior to final dry-milling and hand-sorting at the dry mill in Kigali.