One dynamo can turn defeat into success – in her community, and in the economy of her entire country.
Epiphanie Mukashyaka, born in 1959, is a coffee entrepreneur in Rwanda.
Located just south of the equator, Rwanda is landlocked, located amidst Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Its many and high mountains inspire its moniker, the “Land of a Thousand Hills.” Coffee loves the altitude, the temperate climate, and the two yearly rainy seasons. Kinyarwanda is its main language, followed by French and, increasingly, English.
The economy was all but destroyed by the 1994 genocide, but is recovering. Coffee and tea are the major cash crops, and tourism is gaining momentum. 400,000 Rwandans depend upon coffee for their livelihoods. In this, Epiphanie has played a noticeable role.
In 1994, her husband and one of their 8 children dead and a hillside of the family’s coffee trees destroyed, Epiphanie resolved to fight. “I came up with the idea to build this,” she says, “and nothing was going to stop me.” (See Melbourne Coffee Merchants blogpost “What a Woman”)
She sold the entire crop, that first post-war year, for $98, and immediately used the funds to buy other farmers’ crops. Drought in 1996 meant only half the crop price of the previous year, but the situation improved, beginning in 1997. By 2003, Epiphanie Mukashyaka, was able to found Bufcoffee. Her son, Samuel Muhirwa, manages this growing business.
Mukashyaka now heads a collection of enterprises that include coffee farms, at least 4 washing stations, dry mills, and the coffee exporting business that sells the crops of 7,000 farmers. Several are headed by one of Epiphanie’s children and all share a mission of “satisfying our customers’ needs while improving the livelihoods of our smallholder farmers.” She is deeply involved in community development projects in the areas of health, infrastructure, education, and employment.
From early years, Mukashyaka decided to produce only premium coffee. She has succeeded. Since 2008, Bufcoffee offerings place high in the Cup of Excellence competition.
One definition of “ephiphany” is “an illuminating discovery.” Even Epiphanie Mukashyaka’s given name seems prophetic. She epitomizes strength and resilience in a sustainable-agriculture environment, but even she holds no monopoly on these characteristics in coffee people in Rwanda. Holler Roast’s first coffee beans from Rwanda were part of Café Femenino, one of several international programs promoting women-owned agriculture.
Coffee of the Month
The beans you’ll brew in October have a different source in Rwanda, but still are produced sustainably by smallhold farmers. This country, thanks to its altitude, climate, and volcanic soil, grows excellent coffee: complex, fruity, long-developing on the tongue, aromatic. We know this will rank high on your list of best coffees. Welcome the October Coffee of the Month, Rwanda FTO.
Not a member of Coffee of the Month Club? You can join now (just a hint). Imagine: every month a new, carefully selected premium coffee experience.