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Agroforestry Model Farm in the highlands of Rwanda

With approximately 8000 member farmers in their network, Abakundakawa is a Fair Trade certified cooperative focusing on the cultivation and processing of organic coffee. However, the cooperative faces challenges from soil degradation, depressed international prices for Rwandan coffee and food insecurity. By implementing an agroforestry model farm on an 11ha plot, this project will regenerate soil, supplement local food production and train member farmers in key agroforestry techniques. 

Degraded soils threatening local livelihoods

The municipality of Rushashi lies in Rwanda’s hilly Northern Gagenke province.

At an altitude of around 1,800 to 2,200 meters above sea level, almost 2,000 of its inhabitants are growing and processing coffee as part of the Abakundakawa collective.

However, they are currently facing a number of challenges. Poor soil quality and increasing soil degradation and erosion on steep-sloped coffee farms pose serious and long-term challenges to farm productivity. As farmers rely on the coffee outputs of their farms, this is a serious threat to their rural livelihoods. 

Farmer incomes are decreasing too which is linked to the unstable productivity of their farms and current depressions in international demand for Rwandan coffee. Additionally, food insecurity is a challenge. The current systems focus primarily on coffee, leaving little room for food crops.

An inspiring kick-off with long-term aspirations

In cooperation with This Side Up – an Amsterdam-based coffee importer – reNature will kick-off this project with a Regenerative Agroforestry Model Farm. On 11 hectares, a system will be designed and planted to address soil degradation and diversify farm production within the Abakundakawa cooperative.

The project will create an inspiring example showcasing the benefits of a Regenerative  Agroforestry system in the local context. The 11 ha plot will be located in a high-profile location adjacent to the Rushashi coffee bean washing station and so will be well-placed to inspire to cooperative’s farmers. The cooperative is also connected to other coffee farmers in the wider region and internationally, who have already expressed interest in being involved in future project stages. 

Together with our expert team from Preta Terra, reNature is collaborating with Abakundakawa to investigate, design and implement a new agroforestry system. We will also provide training to both the participating farmers and local agronomists who will take on future training responsibilities. This way, we are building deep local agroforestry knowledge to create lasting impact, as well as laying the groundwork for scaling up in the future.

An economic boost for farmers

The most obvious benefits of a Regenerative Agroforestry coffee system will be felt by the farmers. The improvement of their farms will enable more stable yields in the long run, for instance, through increased resilience to extreme weather.

Regenerative Agroforestry will increase the farms’ economic viability and financial resilience of the farmers

Farmers will also benefit from other sources of income than coffee, including fruit and timber products. This will:

  1. Increase food security
  2. Boost their net income from farm produce
  3. Make them more resilient to fluctuating coffee prices. 

Additionally, these products will also be valuable for their personal use. For example, fruit is in particularly high demand amongst the farmers themselves and the wider community, and having certain trees on the farm provides a ready source of fuelwood.

Counteracting deforestation and boosting local wildlife

On the one hand, the project will benefit Rushashi’s people. On the other hand, through the incorporation of native trees, the system will contribute to the long-term regeneration of declining national forest stocks. Since 2001, the small country has lost more than 30,000 hectares of its forest cover.

Diversifying the coffee plots will also introduce greater biodiversity into the farming landscape. Making use of larger varieties of plants opens up new habitat for more species, whilst dead biomass of leaves and branches will foster life in the soil. This, in turn, will significantly increase the soil’s fertility.

Through Regenerative Agroforestry, Rushashi’s farmlands will also sequester increased amounts of CO2. Elevated amounts of biomass – in form of plants – as well as a boost in soil organic matter, will enable the system to store much more carbon than a monoculture coffee plantation.

Abakundakawa = ‘Those who love coffee’

With a name that can be taken as literal, Abakundakawa has devoted itself to production of high quality Rwandan coffee. It might have been this ‘love’ that fostered the coop’s excellent reputation in the sector (Atlas Coffee). Founded in 2005, Abakundakawa now consists of almost 8,000 farmers.

The Rushashi coffee bean washing station is the cooperative’s central processing facility

The cooperative has its own processing units, owning two coffee washing facilities. The most notable of these is the Rushashi station, which serves as a central hub of the community. Through its growing presence, Abakundakawa has become an important socio-economic factor for the region’s developments. It invests in local infrastructure, provides its members with health insurance, and has provided them with livestock (Sustainable Harvest).

Improving local livelihoods: The special role of women

At Abakundakawa, women play an important role. More than two thirds of its coffee is cultivated and processed by its female members. Farm improvements through Regenerative Agroforestry will, therefore, specifically benefit women in the area. 

The women’s livelihoods are heavily dependent on the outputs and productivity of the farms. Additional produce in form of fruits and vegetables will enhance their access to food enabling improved diets for the beneficiaries and their families.

Women play a prominent role on the farm and in Abakundakawa’s organizational structures

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