Friday, September 30, 2022

Consolate, 41, lives in a small village nestled among the rolling hills of Burundi. In this country, one of the poorest in the world, options for earning a living are limited. The idea that a woman can make money by growing coffee never even crossed her mind: “I thought that coffee growing was for men only. Then one day, there was a training at the coffee washing station, and my husband could not attend, so I went instead. They convinced me that I could do it.” 

Here, in the heart of East Africa, the people do not drink coffee. They prefer a good glass of fresh milk, or the traditional banana beer. Things like coffee are not for drinking, they are a cash crop, traditionally reserved for and controlled by men. 

Coffee historically accounts for about 80 percent of Burundi’s foreign exchange earnings, but the production has steadily declined over decades. Despite funding being added to this sector, coffee yields were dwindling, the income was falling, and the growers were losing confidence in coffee as a cash crop. 

In the fall of 2016, a USAID-funded Burundi Coffee Alliance Project implemented by Kahawatu started 25 associations of women coffee growers. The idea was to transform their living conditions through coffee production, motivate them to adopt more sustainable practices, and teach them new techniques right there, in the fields. 

Against All Odds: Women Coffee Growers Thrive in Burundi Photo 1
Marie-Rose Ndaribwirinda, 68, a coffee grower.
Photo from the archives of Kahawatu.

Village savings and lending associations got involved to allow women to save money and access financing for their growing business. One of them is Marie-Rose, 68, a mother of seven and a grand-mother of four: “Without these associations, we women, especially widows, would find it difficult to acquire autonomy and get out of poverty.”

Thanks to this project, women became more successful in growing not just coffee, but also other crops that they planted between coffee trees. The yield from these other crops increased drastically, reaching as high as thirty times the amount they would get before. They learned how to use domestic animals for soil fertility, and for an alternative source of income, too. As a result, the coffee tree yield doubled by 2020. 

“My small plantation is now producing well thanks to the techniques that I learned. The increased income has allowed me to get out of debt, provide for my grandchildren, and even change the roof of my house. I can now access credits easily, so I bought a second plot of land” Marie-Rose says proudly.  

Projects like this may end on paper and in reports, but in real life they live on through the people whose lives they have changed, and who now spread the knowledge and the spirit that brought them together. 

The land used for Farmer Field School continues to serve as a model and showcase recommended farming practices. The community of women keeps growing stronger, as they make courageous strides to more financial independence and gender equality. “I invite other women, says Consolate, to be dynamic, to change their mentality, not to be dependent on their spouses, but to participate in the improvement of the daily life of their household.” 

Consolate Nahimana, 41, a coffee grower.
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