Gitesi is a private washing station owned and run by a father and son team, Alexis and Aime Gahizi. The washing station was built in 2005 and began processing coffee in 2006, it is located in the Gitesi sector in the Western Province of Rwanda. In the early years they were struggling to keep the washing station operating, and they have fought hard to make it a profitable business. Finally in 2010, they managed to turn a profit and have since built a sustainable company.
Alexis is originally from the Karongi District where Gitesi is located, and his family has been growing coffee in this region for generations. Gitesi has very strong relationships with the farmers in the local community, there are over 1,800 coffee farmers who deliver cherry to Gitesi. The washing station has also implemented a bonus system based on performance, which is paid out to the farmers at the end of the year.
Aime has a degree in engineering and has created a very comprehensive water purification system for the washing station, to such an extent that it is being used to model future water purification systems for washing stations.
Gitesi also has its own land on which it is growing coffee, with plans to expand this. As Aime explained, this is to both directly control and manage the quality of their production, and to ensure supply.
Picking and selection
The season for Rwanda can run from March through to August, but for the most part we are finding our selections coming from May to July picking of cherry. This can always shift a little depending on the weather and the altitude the coffee is being grown at.
Farms are generally very small family owned operations, the family care for the plants and pick the cherries themselves. Usually they will also grow crops for their own consumption, and there are a few farmers with more land.
There are more than 1,800 farmers in the local community delivering their cherry to Gitesi washing station for processing. Competition for cherry can be pretty tough, farmers can deliver to whichever washing station they want. Maintaining a good supply of cherry is dependent on the relationships Gitesi has with farmers, and being able to offer competitive pricing. The second payment system that they run here is part of establishing and maintaining cherry supply.
Aime and the staff at Gitesi are very competent, and trained in managing the delivery of cherry from the farmers. They have very strict routines for cherry reception and sorting, cherry delivered by farmers must be sorted by the farmers themselves, if this is not done sufficiently there are staff who will do further sorting. The cherries are placed in a tank prior to pulping where floaters are removed and processed separately as lower grade coffee.
Fermentation, washing and drying
The climate through most of the season in Rwanda is relatively cool, which assists in controlling the fermentation process. A Penagos 800 Eco Pulper removes the skin, pulp and 70% of the mucilage. The coffee is then dry fermented for 10-12 hours. After this the parchment is graded and washed in channels, it is separated into two grades based on density before being soaked under clean water in tanks for 16 hours.
The parchment is initially taken to pre-drying tables, which are under shade, and where, while the parchment is still wet, a lot of hand sorting is done as it is much easier to see defects at this point. The parchment is dried on African drying beds for up to 15 days, during which time the parchment is covered by shade net during the hottest hours of the day, at night, and anytime it rains.
The Washing Station has different programs for the farmers and the local community including:
A coffee nursery with between 15,000 and 50,000 coffee trees (depending on the needs) which are distributed to coffee farmers at no cost to the farmer;
A bonus to farmers at the end of each season based on performance;
Distribution of pumps and other farming materials to local farmers;
Distribution of cows to local farmers every year to provide an alternative income stream, and a source of organic fertiliser. The first born calf to each of these cows is then given to another farmer. This helps to distribute more cows to more farmers and unifies the farming community.
Health insurance for 100 coffee farmers (poor families) every year.
Training for farmers of coffee or other crops on financial and agricultural management.
Production of organic fertilizer from the coffee pulp and assistance for farmers using it in their coffee farms;
Distribution of chemical fertilizer to coffee farmers.
Gitesi are CAFÉ Practices certified and Rainforest Alliance certified. They have a modern waste water management system and produce organic or natural fertiliser through coffee pulp. They also have a pilot programme where farmers can learn about growing different vegetables, ensuring that they have some income outside of coffee season.