Monday, August 21, 2023

Meet The People Behind Kahawatu Foundation

The Kahawatu Foundation is a driving force for positive change for smallholder farmers in Rwanda and Burundi.

They recently celebrated their 10th anniversary and launched a new website that further explains their purpose, efforts and impact. To learn more about the projects the Kahawatu Foundation is working on and the people behind those endeavors, we’ve spoken with Philotee Mukiza, Project Manager in Rwanda, and Bruce Olivier Ntwari, Country Representative in Burundi.

What is your primary role at the Kahawatu Foundation?

Philotee: My main role is coordinating different projects activities, implementation, following up on coffee community adoption and maintaining good communications and relationships with different stakeholders, beneficiaries and donors.

Bruce: I work closely with monitoring & evaluation, finance and coordinating with field managers. My role is to ensure quality implementation of Kahawatu’s main program of supporting farmers in Burundi. Our projects involve Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs), gender equality, Village Savings & Loans (VSLAs) and more.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your educational background and how long you’ve been at the Kahawatu Foundation?

Bruce: I hold a Master’s degree in Management Marketing and a Bachelor’s degree in Economics. I spent many years in Norway before returning to my country of origin, Burundi. I didn’t expect to work in agriculture but when I saw people in extreme poverty here in Burundi, I knew I wanted to help. I’ve been with Kahawatu since 2015.

Philotee: I have a Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture and Environmental Sciences from the University of Rwanda and a post-graduate certificate in strategic project management for development from the Graduate Institute of Geneva. I’m currently doing a project management professional course (PMP) at the project management Institute (PMI) through the University of Rwanda. I’ve been with Sucafina for over 10 years and now with Kahawatu for the last 2.5 years.

What do you think is the biggest challenge that Kahawatu is trying to address right now? How are they addressing it?

Philotee: The biggest challenge that we have is how to truly improve the livelihoods of our farmers in a tangible way. We are trying different solutions that can support farmers in addition to coffee farming activities. One project that we’ve been implementing that seems to be making an impact is VSLAs, which enable farmers to save money and access loans more easily. This helps them start their small businesses. Many farmers don’t have access to bank loans and they have limited income so they can’t start big projects. To make significant changes in their earnings, they need some way to get fair loans and VSLAs are one solution we’ve been trying.

Bruce: The biggest challenge is impacting farmers’ appetite for change, starting with their mentality. It takes a lot of training and support to help transform a small farmer who hasn’t had much education into a successful entrepreneur. One important aspect we’ve been focusing on is empowering women and youth within the household. It’s difficult to get men, who are used to being the boss, to share everything they have with the women of the house. But when they do, everyone benefits. Asking farmers to apply new GAPs can also be difficult since they aren’t used to doing those. So, we have demo plots where we demonstrate these techniques in person and then can see firsthand how to do it and how it positively impacts their farms.

What are the most important functions of the Kahawatu Foundation?

Bruce: I don’t think there’s just 1 thing, we’re involved in so much, but my ultimate goal is to implement sustainable changes for farmers by starting to change farmers’ mindsets and teach them how to fish, rather than giving them the fish, and for Kahawatu Foundation to be effective and efficient in our impact.

Philotee: The most important thing that Kahawatu does is help farmers realize that they can do better and get more income through coffee farming – that there are possible opportunities, different ways of improving and people ready to work with them to help unlock those possibilities together and support them on changes they wish to see in their lives.

What’s a project you’re involved in at the Kahawatu Foundation that you’re really passionate about?

Philotee: Our gender equality programs are helping women understand the value of their role in their families and the coffee value chain. In Rwanda, around 70% of farms are owned by men but a lot of the physical farm activities are done by women. Women are doing a lot of the labor but when it comes to sales, their husband brings the cherry to the station so they can take the cash. It doesn’t feel good if you’re working but not seeing the income. We help to educate these women to empower them to assert their rights as family members. We also bring on board their husbands to ensure they understand the importance of considering their wives’ work value and motivate them to work as a team. We support women so they can advocate and be recognized for their contribution to income with their husbands and so that they can feel proud of their work. And this translates into better coffee because when women are invested in the outcome, they focus more on high-quality cultivation.

Bruce: We were involved in a 5-year project called the Burundi Coffee Alliance (BCA) from 2016 to 2021. The project was one of the biggest implemented by Kahawatu and was supported by USAID and several coffee stakeholders. The project was designed to trigger a positive turnaround in productivity and quality to strengthen the coffee value chain and to develop market-based solutions that are replicable, sustainable and scalable. These changes can create conducive conditions for economic growth and poverty reduction among coffee producers in the provinces of Kayanza, Ngozi, Muyinga, Karusi and Gitega. In addition, Kahawatu Foundation actively diversified the beneficiaries of the BCA program by including youth and women in the coffee activity implementation. It was really successful, and the key component of this success was empowering women to be stakeholders in coffee production. Women do a lot of the work, but they don’t usually get control of the income. This limits their incentive to improve cultivation. When they receive the income from their hard work, they’re much more likely to implement GAPs and other cultivation tactics.

In the BCA project, we were able to increase yields from 0.8 kilograms per tree in 2016 to 3.29 kilograms in 2021. 43,320 farmers received training on GAPs. Of those farmers, women and youth accounted for 30% and 25% respectively, a huge increase from 0% at the start of the project. Additionally, 26,169 beneficiaries created 987 VSLAs and together saved US$1,455,777. The VSLAs lent out $3,000,741 and had a balance of $6,549 for solidarity purposes.

What are your plans for Kahawatu’s future?

Bruce: I’d like to continue focusing on gender equality and women’s empowerment and farmers’ wellbeing in general. We need to make sure that women are involved in coffee production from A to Z and are seeing the income from their labor. But we also want to enable Kahawatu to serve farmers in a sustainable way.

Philotee: Our role is to support the coffee-growing community. My vision for the future of the Kahawatu Foundation in Rwanda is that while we continue to focus on coffee productivity, we put a focus on farmers’ well-being. I believe that when farmers are healthier and happier they can make phenomenal changes in terms of coffee productivity and quality. 

Ready to get involved in the Kahawatu Foundation’s programs? Check out their new website to learn more.