Bill Frist, MD
How in the world can you take an economy in which over 50% of the population is under the poverty level, is landlocked, ranks somewhere around 160th out of 180 countries on the “Developmental Scale,” and even think about “making extreme poverty history?” as we in ONE like to say.
Answer: Establish viable, sustainable economic growth based on the resources that you have. And the resources that Rwanda naturally have are agriculture (even though it is the most densely populated country in Africa) and tourism (they showcase the upland or mountain gorilla, the magnificent cousins to the lowland gorillas—those whom I used to take care of in the National Zoo –– but more on that in a couple of days).
First, the ONE delegation went to see a fantastic partnership at a “Coffee Washing Station,” owned by the Alfred Nkubili. Our U.S. government, namely USAID, has partnered with the owner and manager to establish a coffee bean washing station. This station purchases coffee beans (“cherries” actually) from farmers (many peasant farmers) and then they process the bean through a washing cycle that separates the beans by quality. These beans become the specialty coffee beans that are sold to Starbucks and specialty coffee shops across America.
To accommodate the burgeoning specialty coffee market, these washing stations hire about 200 women to separate and process the beans. At these facilities, these women’s salaries are double to what they could make elsewhere. And a doubling of their salary means they make enough to pay for school for four children, feed their family, and put a roof (even a metal roof!) over their head. That is economic growth!! The old foreign aid way was a handout – no longer. By facilitating the creation of these washing stations through partnerships with USAID (that’s the US government, and that is your dollar), we are elevating people out of poverty, growing their income and the country’s GDP! It’s pretty remarkable: that’s not “aid”; that’s sustainable economic development.
Just adjacent the massive coffee bean sorting machine, Tim Shilling, a project manager for USAID and member of the Texas A&M Agricultural Research Center, presented to us an enthusiastic talk in a beautiful hillside setting. We learned a lot about the coffee industry here. For instance, Rwanda has grown coffee for the past 100 years (although no one in Rwanda drinks coffee!) because it has ideal climactic growing conditions and genetics. All the coffee is grown by small land holders. Believe it or not, coffee contributes 50% of the GDP!
In 2002, USAID introduced the “central processing” concept and a higher quality of beans were collected. Out of this concept emerged the first “specialty coffee.” The Rwandan private sector invested $15 million in such partnerships. And today over 30 American/European roasting companies are buying this specialty coffee (note that there were none in 2002—they started from zero).Specialty coffee earnings have grown from $1 million in 2001 to $135 million in 2008. Today there are 75 such washing stations in Rwanda, and there is demand for double that amount. The old Rwandan coffee would garner prices 10 to 15% below average market prices, but today it’s the same or higher than the average. Mr. Nkubili has grown his small business to include five Washing Stations, generating gross sales of $865,000. His business injects revenues of $550,000 to coffee growers selling their coffee cherries (2,000 tons).
Assistance by donors like USAID (that’s you and me, the American taxpayer) has helped coffee farmers move up the value chain due to the education in washing, or “central processing” as well as the marketing techniques that make coffee beans more attractive to high-end buyers. It’s value creation.
That is a “hand up” and not a “hand out.” I wish my colleagues in the U.S. Senate could be here to more fully appreciate how good of an investment this is. We at ONE have to figure out someway to get this story about development out to the American people. It’s real; it’s measurable; it’s sustainable; and it’s lasting.
As John Podesta and I walked back up the hill, we reminded each other that we have a lot of work back at home to do in terms of communicating the empowering story we heard today. On the journey goes.