Empowering women coffee producers in Rwanda

4 October 2017
ITC News
Women-owned Sake Farm and more than 2,000 affiliated farmers benefit from investments in supply chain by Sucafina, JDE and ITC

A woman-owned coffee plantation in Rwanda is hoping to increase productivity and improve its operations through a programme aimed at strengthening women’s participation at all levels of the coffee supply chain and improving processing throughout the coffee sector in the country. The programme is a joint initiative by the International Trade Centre (ITC), Sucafina, a commodities trader, and Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE), the global coffee and tea company.

In addition to its own operations, the Sake Farm plantation in the Eastern Province of Rwanda also supports 2,200 farmers in the surrounding area. With financial support from JDE, ITC and the Kahawatu Foundation (Sucafina’s sustainability implementer) will improve the technical infrastructure and skills at the plantation and its processing unit. This will increase the quality and quantity of the coffee produced, as well as improve the farm’s ability to pass on knowledge that will benefit smallholder farmers, making Sake Farm an information hub.

Ms. Marie Laetitia Kayitesire, Managing Director of Sake Farm, planted the first coffee trees on her plantation in 1999 and today its 30 hectares are planted with Arabica Bourbon variety trees. In 2003, with support from USAID, Ms. Kayitesire secured the investment to build a coffee washing station, which serves Sake Farm and buys and processes the coffee of smallholder farmers in the surrounding area.

Power of coffee

Indeed, Ms. Kayitesire says her vision for the plantation has always been to use the power of coffee to forge links within her community. ‘Sake Farm is already an important source of income for people in the surrounding area, both as a market for their coffee and by providing employment. In addition, the smallholder farmers rely heavily on Sake Farm to provide information on improved agricultural practices,’ Ms. Kayitesire says.

In addition to running Sake Farm, Ms. Kayitesire is also a board member of the Rwanda chapter of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) and a member of SheTrades, ITC’s initiative to enhance the empowerment and competitiveness of women entrepreneurs.

Daniel Martz, Director of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability at JDE, describes the underlying philosophy of their involvement: ‘JDE supports the Rwanda Women’s Coffee Alliance and its member Sake Farm because we believe that by understanding the important role of women in coffee growing and by working together with our partners (Sucafina, Kahawatu, and the ITC) we can improve the livelihoods of coffee farmers and sustainable coffee in Rwanda.’


Ms. Kayitesire says that the underlying thread in her business goals is an old Rwandan adage: ‘Umugore n'umugabo ni magirirane; baruzuzanya’, translated as ‘man and woman walk together for our well-being’. The support from ITC, Sucafina and JDE, a partnership facilitated by Alliances for Action, will enable her to achieve this vision. She currently runs a mentoring system for farmers to share expertise, and to help them to achieve higher revenues and provide alternative ways of generating income and employment. Sake Farm also facilitates informal women’s groups and capacity building opportunities, and women can also benefit from family planning and informal village financial savings groups.

Dave Behrends, Managing Partner and Head of Trading at Sucafina, says: ‘Sucafina recognizes that economic empowerment of women’s groups such as Sake Farm are vital toward increasing smallholder farmer income levels. We are proud to be able to partner with Kahawatu, ITC and JDE in supporting this initiative and being able to help contribute to the vibrant coffee communities that are at the core of our business.’