It’s true, angels do exist! And by chance, I happened to find one in Africa. I’m Shaz, and I’m a sensory and green bean specialist, coffee hunter and green bean buyer for Seven Miles. My most recent origin trip took me coffee hunting around Kenya and Ethiopia, but I found the real gem in Rwanda.
While in Nairobi, slurping and tasting my way down a long table of Kenyan coffee samples, I reached the far end, which had a selection of Rwandan coffees on it. One particular Rwandan sample caught my attention; so much so that I thought “I must get out to this washing station… somehow!”
I had been to Rwanda before, when my husband and I were on an African adventure. We drove and camped our way through Africa in our Land Rover, and as we passed through producing countries, I engaged with coffee people and companies.
So, during this year’s trip, I dropped back into Kigali to catch up with people; and they also helped me visit the washing station which produced this coffee that caught my attention in Nairobi. I am so I glad I made the effort and followed my instincts, as I met a very special person – Agnes Mukamushinja, the owner of Nova Coffee Washing Station.
If I was to sum Agnes up into a few words, they would be kind, generous and caring… and smart, inspirational, successful, nurturing, big hearted, gentle, beautiful, lovely… okay, maybe I can’t stop at just a few words! Agnes truly is an amazing lady, all-round.
High quality coffee processing at Nova Washing Station
Agnes is committed to quality. In her short time as an owner (since 2013) she has invested and re-shaped the washing station into an operation that now produces top quality specialty coffee.
She has completely upgraded the processing facilities, installing a new pulper, fermentation tanks and grading channels. Quality control management is advanced, with extensive sorting steps throughout the production process.
Caring for women in the Rwandan coffee industry
Nova has a strong focus on women. Women are critical to the Rwandan coffee industry across all levels; from working as pickers, graders and sorters, to owning and managing coffee farms and washing stations.
Agnes noticed that women in coffee are irreplaceable for quality reasons! Agnes stresses that quality is most important to Nova Coffee, and describes coffee as being like a baby or small child. Both require care, or they could develop problems as they grow up. She says that women have a natural insight into caring methods, whether it be a baby or coffee.
She says, “Women are better than men in paying attention to every single detail,” and whenever she teaches or explains something, women understand and do it the way they are told or taught. Agnes says the difference between women and men is ‘quality over quantity’.
Men see on the surface and can do a lot of work, however women are “checking under and on top of the table” (as the expression goes).
Agnes notices that unemployed women in the local area have a lot of problems, and some are young and have dropped out of school. Young girls without money are vulnerable, and can be taken advantage of. She wants to reduce their risk of sexual abuse, drug abuse and violence. Agnes wants them be able to afford essentials so they can take care of themselves. Agnes also sees the benefit in helping married women. She says that a second income for families allows them to move forward and get ahead. In addition to direct employment, Agnes also wants to teach the ladies tailoring, a practical and income-generating skill to keep them going during the off-season. Agnes sees that supporting women not only benefits the ladies, as “Once the ladies are well off, the whole nation is well off!”
She says, “Women often do not believe in themselves, and they lack self-confidence.” She wants to help break down this barrier, saying “Women are capable of doing anything, and can do anything a man can do!”
Transforming the lives of workers
Therese is the Operations Manager at Nova. She started working at Nova in 2013. Prior to that she was jobless and could not cater for her basic needs. Now, she is well off and pays the school fees for her siblings and other relatives. She has resumed her own studies, which she previously gave up when she could not afford the school fees, and has purchased plots of land.
Theresa says Nova also buys her cherries for a good price, unlike when she processed her coffee at home and was paid little. As an operations manager, Theresa says that because Nova pays good money for cherries and on time, the quality is improved because it encourages her and other growers to pick and deliver their cherries on time.
Theresa is motivated to learn more by gaining more training and experience, as her personal goal is to have her own washing station in the future.
Leonille works as a sorter at Nova with her six children. She had her first three children one year apart from each other, and then had triplets. At that point, her husband left her with all the starving children, as he could not afford to take care of them. Leonille had to look for work, and joined Nova in 2014. She says that is when her life changed, because they pay her well and on time. She has been able to buy a cow, which provides milk for her kids who are well off and healthy, and she is able to pay for school fees and medical insurance for her family. She said she managed to build a nice house as the one she was in was very old, and she is among the few women in her village that has saved money in the bank.
Julliene is 23, and was raised an orphan while suffering from various illnesses. She was unable to pay for her medication so she dropped out of school in second grade and began working at the Nova coffee washing station. Julliene said when Agnes found her, she took her to hospital and paid for all of her medical bills. Now, she is well and back at school, and Nova supports her in many ways.
Kesai was unable to cater for her basic needs, and was a prostitute from an early age. She was employed by Nova, and is now grading coffee in the washing channels. She says that she has prospered tremendously, being paid well and on time, and is now able to buy animals like goats and chickens, which help with her daily needs and future endeavours.
The community benefits of a coffee plantation
Nova provides wholesome meals for its workers, creating a nurturing environment. They also extend this care by ensuring that all of their staff have medical insurance. If they cannot afford it, Agnes pays for them, and they can pay her back later.
Supplying water and electricity
When I met Agnes, she told me a few of the projects she wanted to start working on.
Agnes wants to bring fresh water to the washing station by piping it from the mountain. Once connected, the local community near the washing station will also have easy access to this fresh, clean water supply. Additionally, people living near the connection lines will be given access to the water.
Agnes also wants to connect electricity to the washing station. At the same time, she will connect nearby houses to the electricity. This is very expensive, but Agnes says that she wants to see it happen very soon.
I have since been informed that planning and communication with stakeholders is now underway, and that work started in November for both the water and electricity projects.
Other community activities
Agnes also provides support to the local community. In Rwanda, the government encourages the communities to identify where assistance in their community is required. For example, if families require assistance for medical insurance or to get a solid roof on their house, as well as other community needs such as the building of schools and health care centres. Nova participates and supports these development activities with fundraising and social activities.
Nova Coffee Station: bringing the community together
Agnes told me she was going to host some community sporting competitions, where teams from the washing station will play against teams from the local community. Since then, a cycling competition has already occurred, and the cycling finals were held in September.
Also on finals day, they held football competitions, awards for exemplary farmers with secateurs and spray pumps (and those who use proper farm practices such as mulching and pruning), provided medical insurance to 50 households and shared some delicious Nova coffee!
I see Agnes as the big heart of Nova. She is the driver of their coffee quality, and she is the source of the amazing amount of care and support that radiates from Nova Coffee Washing Station.
What she achieves is truly amazing and very inspirational. Nova Coffee might be known for its coffee quality, but Agnes herself is a quiet achiever, and I feel very privileged to have met her during my visit to Nova Washing Station.