About coffee

INTERVIEW: David RUBANZANGABO from the Rwandan farm Huye Mountain Coffee


David RUBANZANGABO is the owner of the Rwandan farm Huye Mountain Coffee. He has been involved in coffee since 1998 when he joined OCIR (Rwanda Coffee Development Authority) as an agronomist. Since 2006 he has been the chief technician of the Rwandan SPREAD project and in 2012 he founded the Huye Mountain farm. He capitalized on the experience and success came immediately, the same year his coffee placed in the Rwandan Cup of Excellence. Since 2012, Huye Mountain has been a stable and integral part of the coffee offerings of several well-known roasters, such as Stumptown. Last year, David cut a role in “A Film About Coffee” that made him the toughest biker among coffee farmers.

David, family is the most important thing to you, tell us about yours.

I am the owner of David and family, we are a family business that grows and grinds coffee. Me, my wife, three kids and my sister who acts as a professional cupper. We work in the Southern Province of Rwanda. Near Huye. We have 4 hectares of coffee plantation and own a small water mill.

When did you realize you wanted to work with coffee?

Our farm project started in 2004 when we started planting coffee bushes. At that time I was still working for OCIR. In 2011 we built a small water mill, in 2012 we exported a small amount of green coffee to the USA, for Stumptown Coffee Roasters and we won second place in the Cup of Excellence 2012. This has encouraged us to increase production.

What was your first experience with coffee?

I became interested in coffee while I was studying agronomy. I have worked as an agronomist since 1998 in OCIR. In OCIR, I worked initially as an advisor for cooperatives (ed. note : a very common model in Rwanda), which bring together smallholders. I learned most of what I know about coffee at OCIR.

How does Huye Mountain work ? How many people work on the farm and how many families work with you?

In addition to our own plantation, we work with 1,300 small farmers in the surrounding area. We provide these farmers with everything they need to grow – from young bushes to training. Thanks to this model, our production is diversified, from the single-origin Huye Mountain Gako to the Huye Mountain Specialty Blend, in which the best coffees from our small growers are blended according to precise proportions. During the harvesting period we are sorting, processing, washing, drying the beans. These grains are then sold to international buyers. We pay small farmers for every kilo of coffee they sell to us. At the end of the season, after sales to foreign traders, we pay farmers a bonus and a second payment that depends on the final sale price.

Do you have social programs for farmers?

Yes, we have a community programme through which we contribute to farmers’ health insurance, especially for their children. Next, a training program through which we teach them to grow and achieve higher and better yields. We have started a programme through which we teach farmers to save money and last but not least we contribute to children’s school fees.

Do you think it is important to reflect new knowledge about coffee cultivation and processing? Where do you get them from?

First of all, I communicate intensively with the people who buy coffee from us – what are their standards, what are they looking for, where could we improve according to them. Often these are people who have visited many of the coffee countries in which they shop. I have a plan for the future to visit different farmers with whom we could exchange knowledge on how to improve quality or technical skills.

You are developing a new concept of coffee tourism. Tell us more about this project.

It is the latest addition in our efforts to diversify our corporate activities and ensure stability for the future. We have created a tourist route for coffee lovers and tourists visiting Rwanda. During this tour you will learn directly on the plantation how coffee grows, how it is harvested, dried and roasted. It’s an educational programme where you will learn all about coffee growing first hand. Due to the fact that coffee is grown at high altitudes, it’s not just an educational hike, but a hike that you have to engage your muscles and your fitness. Beautiful scenery awaits you at the top. And freshly brewed coffee at the end of the hiking trail.

Why is your coffee special?

Because we pay extremely close attention to quality control, at all levels from the coffee bush to the final cup of coffee.

Can we compare the Rwandan coffee industry of the past and the present? What future do you predict for him?

The past and the present are very different. Before the genocide, 100% of production was for the general market. We now grow a selection of coffees that carry added value in their quality and also have a higher price. I think Rwandan coffee has a bright future because government institutions are giving a lot of attention and funding to the coffee industry. And in the same way, we, the private sector, are very committed to improving the quality of our coffee.

And what are you doing right now ? What’s your weather like? When does harvesting start? (ed. note: the interview took place on 19.2.2015)

The weather is very nice, sunny. The collection season starts on Monday 23. February. I’m working out the logistics right now. From this season we will have 2 water mills, the second one I constructed myself. I hope we will increase the quality and quantity. Our target is 70 tonnes of very high quality, choice coffee, which we will export after the season. Hopefully into the cups of your readers.

The interview was originally published in Standart magazine issue2

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