2019 PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS® student, Agnes Mukamushinja, wants the world to know exactly how important the Rwandan coffee trade is, not only to the country but to its women as well. As a child, Agnes beamed with pride when she had the chance to tag along with her father, an agronomic public servant, to local coffee farms which she valued as educational visits. As wonderful as those moments were, coffee was not Agnes’ first dream.
Agnes obtained her bachelor’s in nursing and later a degree in vocational teaching. She went on to open her first business, a small pharmacy, with her husband beside her. After the genocide, Agnes found she had the responsibility of looking after and caring for familial orphans and other local families in need. She relates her struggles to the myth of Sisyphus who was forced to roll a giant rock up a mountainside only to have it roll back down and start the strenuous task again. The meager profits from the pharmacy were not enough to keep their heads above the water. Her husband, recognizing the growing coffee industry in Rwanda, pleaded with Agnes to dive in. Agnes did not think the idea was clever and refused. Her husband was persistent and eventually Agnes agreed; In 2013 Nova Coffee was born.
Coffee has a big impact on the Rwandan economy with $66 million generated from July 2017 to June 2018. The country started out with two coffee washing stations in 2000 and currently has over 300. Rwanda’s specialty coffee production rate moved from almost zero in 2000 to 58 percent in 2017 and is projected to grow to 80 percent of total coffee produced by 2020. The national focus is on producing quality coffee and Nova Coffee boasts some of the best land to meet the goal. Set high in the volcanic mountains of Rwanda’s Northern Province with an altitude of 5,900-6,500 feet, Nova Coffee has fertile soil along with favorable sunlight and rainfall. This is important because the aromatic, flavorful coffee that most of us enjoy grows at elevations of 4,000 ft. and above.
Agnes’ goal is not only to help produce and export the best coffee via her coffee washing station but to also help young women in need. Agnes says many young girls and women are dropping out of school and becoming easier targets due to their vulnerability. Her aim is to employ the young girls to get them on their feet and also to help provide a second income to those women who are married. In the future, Agnes plans to teach the young girls how to tailor, which is a valuable skill that will ensure they have a means for income during the coffee growing off-season. She is grateful to her husband and her four adult children who have helped her achieve this dream. She says at first it was difficult because Nova Coffee is not close to their home and she spent many long days at the coffee washing station learning as much as she could. “Owning this business changed a lot of things in my life. As a woman I now feel confident enough to stand in front of the public and inspire people to open up to the business world. In addition, I feel proud because I know I’m giving a good example to my children and everyone else around me.”
Agnes is an active and accomplished advocate for women’s rights. She is a member of the Rwanda Chamber for Women Entrepreneurs, International Women’s Coffee Alliance, Coffee Exporters and Processors Association of Rwanda as well as sitting on the board for the Rwanda Private Sector Federation. Agnes now makes coffee her way of life and says, “as long as there is life, there will be hope.”
Written by: Sonja Sparks, 2019 IEEW Intern