Kahawatu Foundation's Journey and Impact
Justin Archer, Executive Director of Kahawatu Foundation and Head of Sustainability at Sucafina, shared his insights into the work and history of Kahawatu Foundation.
How did Kahawatu Foundation come about?
In around 2010 the government of Burundi started privatizing its coffee assets and sold a number of coffee washing stations to private traders and exporters. By 2012/13 Sucafina had become a significant investor in Burundi, sourcing coffee cherry directly from around 60,000 smallholders. At the same time, the government’s exit from the sector created a void in the supply of agricultural services to farmers.
In order to keep supporting farmers with advisory services, Sucafina initiated the creation of an independent foundation that could partner with donors to channel technical support to Burundi’s smallholder farmers. Kahawatu Foundation was founded in Switzerland in 2013, and immediately thereafter a not-for-profit organization of the same name was established in Burundi. The name ‘Kahawatu’ is a simple play on two Swahili words kahawa (‘coffee’) and watu (‘of the people’).
The model proved to be a success, and partnerships with both the public and private sector soon led to projects on GAP (good agricultural practices), health, gender, and youth. In 2016, the board established a new branch in Rwanda, and then another in Uganda in 2018.
As of 2023, Kahawatu Foundation has trained 100,000+ farmers on GAP, supported 800,000+ coffee community members, initiated 50 women’s groups, set up 1,538+ income-generating activities, and helped to establish 1,266 village savings and loans associations (VSLAs).
How does Kahawatu Foundation support farmers and enhance coffee production?
I think the most important work we’re doing is on supporting farmers to learn and adopt best agricultural practices. I think it’s amazing how much can be achieved with relatively few resources. We’re not pushing fertilizers, we’re not pushing any particular technologies, we’re just helping people to become better coffee farmers simply by using the resources and assets on their farms. These are things like pruning techniques, better mulching techniques, and better ways of dealing with pests and diseases on the farm.
We work very hard not only to support coffee farmers but also to try to address some of the important pillars within communities, like education, health, gender equality, and environment. We recognize that we need to engage with coffee farmers and invest in productivity but then also look at all those very important community issues that influence coffee production and are also affected by the fluctuation of coffee prices. That’s always been there at Kahawatu, and I think that’s great.
How do your initiatives change from location to location?
Every farmer is an individual. Every community has different challenges. It’s so hard to get it right when you are limited by resources and working with so much human complexity. We’ve had our fair share of failures but also some encouraging successes. We just need to keep investing a lot more time and effort to try to get it right.
There is a tendency within the coffee industry to compartmentalize sustainability issues into simple buckets. For instance, gender is a very big and important topic. What’s true in Western Uganda, say, may not also apply to Northern Burundi. Yet the solutions are often presented as relatively homogenous when a more nuanced and targeted approach can better address the key challenges that are foundational to building a more prosperous future for coffee communities.
How does Sucafina fit into Kahawatu’s supply chain?
First, it’s important to note that Kahawatu Foundation was initiated by Sucafina in 2012 and is now independent. Nicolas A. Tamari, CEO of Sucafina, is the President of the Board of Directors at the foundation, while the rest of the board is made up of both non-coffee and coffee members, some of whom are roasters and traders themselves. Sucafina contributes part of Kahawatu’s operating budget every year. The rest is raised through donor programs and partnerships.
At the same time, I think it’s crucial, based on experience, to have an off-taker in the supply chain. Unless you have some sort of market outlet for the farmers, it’s very hard to speak about true sustainability. The whole engagement with farmers is rewarding considering all that we are doing with training and capacity building.
Stories of change
Amplifying voices from coffee communities.
Denyse has used skills learned in Kahawatu Foundation trainings to earn an income from tailoring and to start other income-generating activities, like livestock rearing.
Ituze Women Group
Kahawatu Foundation supports Ituze Women Group, whose members own a coffee plantation, have soap-making and pineapple-selling businesses, and save together through a VSLA.