Rwanda Tries To Persuade Its Citizens To Drink The Coffee They Grow : The Salt While the country is renowned for its high-quality Arabica Bourbon beans, both cost and culture have kept Rwandans from imbibing one of their top cash crops. The government wants to that to change.
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Rwanda Tries To Persuade Its Citizens To Drink The Coffee They Grow

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Rwanda Tries To Persuade Its Citizens To Drink The Coffee They Grow

Rwanda Tries To Persuade Its Citizens To Drink The Coffee They Grow

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Some of the best coffee beans in the world are grown in Africa. But a cup of coffee is still too expensive for many Africans to afford. A country like Rwanda exports 99 percent of the coffee it produces. Reporter Erika Beras says now the Rwandan government is stepping in to give its citizens a taste of what they grow.

ERIKA BERAS, BYLINE: This is an ad running on radio stations in Rwanda.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, through interpreter) Barista, come here.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, though interpreter): I'm here, boss.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, though interpreter) Can you also give me that coffee those foreigners are drinking? It smells nice.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIPPING)

BERAS: The ad was produced by the Rwandan government. It tells people coffee isn't just for foreigners. It's for them too.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Voice over, through interpreter). Coffee of Rwanda, beauty of ours.

BERAS: Coffee shops are popping up in Kigali, the country's capital. On a Sunday afternoon, a couple dozen ex-pats and wealthier Rwandans are in a coffee shop which appears to be modeled after Starbucks. The walls are decorated with folk art and blown-up photographs of coffee farmers. Thirty-three-year-old banker Kayumba Polepole sits alone at a table, drinking a latte and sending emails. He drinks coffee because he likes taste, but also because he wants to buy local.

KAYUMBA POLEPOLE: If we have a finished product that is made in Rwanda, I think that it's a pride also to consume that product instead of sending the first quality abroad.

BERAS: But the price of coffee puts it out of reach for the majority of Rwandans. A cup of coffee is 2,500 Rwandan francs. That's about $3. But in Rwanda, that's the equivalent of several days' pay. They drink Fanta and tea, which cost a lot less. It's so expensive because Rwanda doesn't have enough places to roast coffee, so coffee is exported to Europe or the U.S. for roasting and then the finished product is imported back.

At a plantation in the lush Northwestern hills of Rwanda, Emmanuel Baziruwile and Fabien Ntawuruhunga are carefully pruning dead branches off Bourbon Arabica coffee trees. They've worked here for decades, but neither of them had tasted coffee until last year when they got a cup as part of the government campaign called Coffee Days.

EMMANUEL BAZIRUWILE: (Through interpreter) Now I know the taste. If I could afford to buy it, then I could prepare it at home. But I don't have the means to buy coffee.

BERAS: That's Emmanuel Baziruwile. For Fabien Ntawuruhunga, it's cost - he makes a $1.25 a day - and culture keeping him from coffee.

FABIEN NTAWURUHUNGA: (Through interpreter). We didn't drink coffee because we didn't know how to coffee. We knew the coffee as beans, but nothing about drinking them.

BERAS: German and Belgian colonizers introduced the crop to Rwanda more than a century ago. Rwandans were forced to grow coffee for export under brutal conditions. Eric Rukwaya works for the National Agricultural Export Board. He says this created a distaste for coffee.

ERIC RUKWAYA: Beating them, forcing them - that have created this cycle of hatred as something which they were forced to plant.

BERAS: Rwanda's coffee industry just about collapsed after the 1994 genocide in which nearly 1 million people died. No one was left to work. Gradually, coffee made a comeback, and today, it's Rwanda's largest and most profitable agricultural export. The goal is to raise domestic consumption from 1 to 10 percent within the next decade.

For NPR News, I'm Erika Beras.

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