A new pilot project was introduced by SCAE’s International Development Committee (IDC) in 2015 saw two of the Association’s top educators travel to Rwanda to educate coffee professionals in the East African nation. IDC Chair, ALBERTO POLOJAC, talked to Café Europa about the Committee’s endeavours to support coffee communities at origin and build a sustainable coffee industry.
Gender equality and age balance were top of the agenda when SCAE’s International Development Committee began planning the Association’s first project in origins this year.
‘Our main focus is sustainability,’ says Alberto Polojac, the Authorised SCAE Trainer (AST) and IDC Chair, who travelled to Rwanda with fellow AST and Chair of SCAE’s Education Committee, Ludovic Maillard, in August to provide sensory and green coffee training.
‘For our pilot programme we wanted to train people working in coffee’s origins. The initial project was designed to focus on women and young people, addressing inequality issues in both demographics, but we broadened the parameters in Rwanda to open the training to everyone. In total, 26 people took part in the programme and 14 of those were women, so it was a good result.’ The project was a success, with 20 of the 26 passing the foundation and intermediate sensory and green coffee modules of SCAE’s Coffee Diploma System. Participants hailed from the coffee industry, many working in the National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB) and exporting companies within the country.
NAEB and Letsequoia, the coffee exporter led by IDC member Inyoung Kim, were partners of the programme, with both organisations proving eager to support the country’s crucial coffee industry. Coffee is a huge contributor to the Rwandan economy, accounting for 75% of foreign exchange earnings and the IDC is keen to continue its work in the country in the future.
‘Rwanda was a great place for us to base our pilot programme,’ explains Alberto. ‘The government is supportive, it has good infrastructure and logistics, and the industry needs our help. The participants had not undertaken training before but they were very enthusiastic. They also had not experienced coffees from other origins, only their own, so it was great to be able to show them other coffees and compare them.’
With sustainability and equality – both in terms of gender and age – at the top of the IDC’s agenda, Alberto is keen to continue the project. ‘We are focusing on the social pillar of sustainability,working together with the Education Committee and NGOs to support those working at origin. We are giving them knowledge and helping them improve their skills. The long-term plan is to train trainers so that they can provide education themselves.’
‘Rwanda was a great place for us to base our pilot programme. The government is supportive, it has good infrastructure and logistics, and the industry needs our help.’
The IDC plans to return to Rwanda in 2016, staging the second round of training in November. ‘We are working with the International Women’s Coffee Alliance, Grounds for Health and the International Trade Centre to expand the programme in 2016. As a pilot project our first trip to Rwanda was a success, particularly as it was planned quite quickly, so we are keen to build on this,’ says Alberto. ‘We want to work with other associations and NGOs as we firmly believe that if we work together rather than running separate projects it will have a bigger impact. At the moment the Coffee Quality Institute, SCAA, Grounds for Health and ITC are all working there so we’re trying to align the different associations.’
While Rwanda remains the focus in the short term, Alberto believes that the project can be rolled out to other origins in the future. ‘The plan is to work on the programme in one location first, then once we have clear ideas on what to do and how to do it we can introduce it to other countries. We believe education is crucial in helping build a sustainable coffee industry and SCAE has an important role to play in this.’