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Improving Coffee in Rwanda the GIS way

July 25, 2011

Weather has always been the farmer’s biggest concern because of its capricious nature. Though in many areas it’s become fairly predictable, in most parts of the world it can change over time or even suddenly, making agricultural decisions a gamble. For the coffee growers - as with many other crops -a harvest can be made or destroyed by one weather event. Since the farmers can’t control the weather, the answer is to make other improvements to strengthen the coffee plants and support services. In this regard, there is good news on the coffee growing front. One American couple now living in Rwanda is trying to improve the coffee farmers’ chances by using the new tools offered by GIS technology (think Geographic Information Systems.). Drs. Tim Schilling (agronomist) and Michele Adesir-Schilling (geographer) are applying the GIS features to issues of processing-center placement, tree replacement, and selection of special “terroirs” for Rwandan coffee (selecting names for coffees much like those of wines). The height of geekiness, this work involved developing “a GIS model that ‘linked space to taste’ by connecting specific characteristics in coffee taste profiles with those environmental factors that might have an influence on those profiles.” Partially this boiled down to location of washing stations to help the farmers process their beans in the way that will result in the highest quality product. These methods have not only brought higher incomes and thus better quality of life to at least 100,000 of Rwanda’s coffee farmers, but have also helped to provide stability for the future Rwandan coffee supply. Ten years of work in this area is paying off for the Schillings and the specialty coffee industry, and especially Rwandan coffee farmers. As Dr. Schilling says, “This research will not only seek to increase the quality of coffee, but also the amount of specialty coffee available to the world market, through better cultivation practices, better post-harvest processing of coffee cherries, better transportation and storage systems, and improved coffee varieties.” You can taste Rwandan coffees now from ROASTe. A few are below.






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