Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Cherie Blair, meet the coffee bike

Hey all. Cherie Blair, the wife of the British Prime Minister, visited the Maraba cooperative this morning. She was introduced to the various facilities that the cooperative has developed like the Telecenter/Internet center and the cupping laboratory. Along the way during the tour she was familiarized with the coffee bike. She asked some questions of it's capacities and it's purposes and I tried to keep it cool, with a forehead of sweat. She was excited about the program, but when I asked her if she wanted to ride on the back she responded with a smile, "no thanks."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Follow-up meeting with Joseph, a farmer using the Coffee Bicycle

Joseph is an older farmer than Celestin and doesn't use the bicycle as much. He is also not a thorough in documenting his activities as Celestin and does not openly express and point out the highlights of the bicycle. But the information I did receive showed positive results.

Joseph, his wife and 8 children live in the Cyendajuru zone of the Maraba cooperative. He owns 600 coffee trees, and last year he produced 800 kilos of coffee cherries, the year before he produced 730 kilos. So last year he roughly made 96,000 frw ($175USD - using the 550frw/$1USD exchange) when he dropped off the coffee to the washing station, then when the coffee was bought he made an additional premium of 24,000 frw ($44). We hope this premium price will triple with the added quality that the coffee will bring with improved transportation. We predict an increase of $0.10 - $0.15 a pound for this coffee. I am not sure exactly how these premium profits are divided between the cooperative operations and the farmers, but roughly 30% goes to the management/operations and 70% to their farmers. So for Joseph's last season this translates into an increased income of 68,000 frw ($123) at $0.10 and an increase of 102,000 frw ($185). This, of course, it hypothetical and the true increased premiums will be determined as the coffee bicycle coffee has undergone quality testing during the coffee season.

Joseph documented a few of his longer trips for me. Last week he took 100 kilos of agricultural product to Butare, about 30 km away. He takes a dirt road to get to Butare which is characterized by one long hill. Before with the standard bicycle he would push the bicycle the entire way and not pedal. With the coffee bicycle he pushes the bicycle 2 times, and rides the rest of road riding the bicycle. With the coffee bicycle he is able to save 30 minutes each way. He is normally packing more than 100 kilos on the coffee bicycle to the markets, and with the older bicycle it would be 20-30 kilos less and he would use 25% more time to transport the less weight.

If there was something that Joseph would change about the bicycle he would want the rack above the rear tire to be wider. He thinks that the racks on the sides down near the axels are helpful also, but is more used to placing things on a higher rack. He also thinks that the racks should not be made out of wood since there is a negative stigma about any type of wood being used on a bicycle, why? I don't know. He suggests that any form of a rack ought to be made out of metal, and this makes sense since all the bicycle racks that are found here are made out of roughly welded rebar. Also the bicycle is long and with the heavier loads that he ambitiously straps on it he finds it more difficult to push up hills when it is necessary. There are plans to make a shorter wheelbase coffee bicycle in the future.

After his month of using the bicycle he is excited about being on the list to receive one. He sees the worth in it and is willing to pay 70,000 frw ($127) for one.

The picture is the rack of his older bicycle. This rack supports his 80 kilo loads. The weight of these loads on these bicycles sits behind the axel of the rear wheel, so when the weight of the rider is off the front or if something in the road pops the front wheel off the ground, the weight of the load flies to the ground and the whole front of the bicycle stands strait up the air like a capsized boat. It usually takes more than the rider to lift of the load and ground the front wheel again. The whole thing is actually a pretty tricky process, the rider has to pay so much attention to how quickly he dismounts and keeps the load from flying to the ground. I have helped a few capsized bikes back to normality since being here. With the coffee bicycle this is not an issue though, since the weight it either in front of the rear axel or place on top of it.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Follow-up meeting with Celestin, a farmer using the Coffee Bicycle

Celestin, the Karaba Coffee Farmer using the Coffee Bicycle, met Jean Marie and I in a tiny little restaurant where we ate an afternoon portion of goat brochettes and bananas. Celestin sat down across from me in a dark room that was lighted up by two small windows. He had the same excitement in his eyes as the day I let him start using the bicycle two weeks ago. He was happy to tell me about his experiences with the bicycle in his charismatic manner, how it has helped him and his family, how it has saved him time and earned him more money.

Over the past two weeks he has traveled at least 210 km. I say least because this is what he documented, and he only documented about 8 days worth of riding yet he mentioned that he rides it everyday. He used to travel these distances on his older, standard edition Rwandan bicycle to the market places in the nearest large town, Gikongoro, about 30 km away. With his older bicycle he would push the bicycle with a load of roughly 45-55kilos about 50% of the time, generally up hills. With the Coffee Bike he pushes it about 25-30% of the time and does it half the time. Before this loaded trip would take him 2 to 2 ½ hours, with the Coffee Bicycle it takes him 1 – 1 ½ hours. On unloaded trips to Gikongoro he never pushes the coffee bicycle, and with his older bicycle he pushed it about 30-40% of the time. I asked him what he does now with his extra hour or two during the day, he told me that he is starting to plant more vegetables to sell or focuses on caring for his coffee trees. During this extra time he was able to visit more fellow Karaba coffee farmers in order to prepare to the upcoming coffee season [He is an extension agent for the cooperative, which is someone who informs farmers, especially more remote farmers, in his district of the news with the cooperative, and about other issues surround the upcoming coffee season.] He mentioned that with his older bicycle he did not have this extra time.

He said that the coffee bicycle helped in three significant ways. First, the bicycle is ideal for transporting any type of agricultural good to the market, and may as well be a washing station during the coffee season. He thinks that he can make more money, and has made more money with its capabilities to carry more to the market. Secondly, he is able to carry his entire family on the bicycle; his wife and two children. This has saved the entire family time because now they don’t have to walk as much, and this has saved them money since they don’t have to spend as much on transportation fares. People have said to Celestin that the bicycle is like a motorcycle in that it can carry more people than a normal bike and do it efficiently. Thirdly, the reduction of time using the coffee bicycle has allowed him to focus on other income generating activities.

Anticipating the Coffee Bicycle Program coming up in the upcoming coffee season I asked him about the price and the loads that he will be able to put on the bicycle in the transportation of coffee cherries. He is willing to find the money to pay cash for the bicycle, no questions asked, he doesn’t want to bother with the loan. He said that the current crops he has been transporting he hasn’t gone much over loading it with 80 kilos. His has loaded it with 200+ kilos of people though. He says that he would feel comfortable carrying 200+ kilos of cherries on good roads, and 120-150 kilos of cherries on bad, rut infested roads. With his older bicycle the maximum he would load the bicycle down with coffee cherries was 50 kilos.
There is a summary of how he has been using the bicycle. Hope you find it exciting like I do. Thanks for reading. -Jay

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Hey Folks. The Coffee Bicycle made it to Rwandan T.V.! Last Friday the U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda, Michel Arrieti, hosted a specialty coffee breakfast were all the people involved with specialty coffee came to talk about the upcoming year. Tim Schilling, the director of SPREAD, came after the ambassador’s welcome speech to talk about the changes that will be occurring in the specialty coffee sector. The first topic he touched on was the Coffee Bicycle and described the benefits of these cooperatives using this bike. The cameras were running and then the meeting was broadcasted Friday evening on all the news stations, in Kinyarwanda, French and English. The segment included a decent sized commentary on the bicycle with footage. I personally have not seen it, I have not turned on the T.V. to get my Rwanda news yet, but many people have mentioned it to me. I am currently trying to retrieve the segment from Rwandan T.V. So, it is becoming public beyond the Rwandan coffee sector circles where the bicycle is already well known.

Quite exciting. I’ll write sometime soon about an interview I have tomorrow with Celestin, the farmer who rode up the unridable hill.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Flickr account

To all those that do not know about my pictures on my flickr account here it is. I am pretty bad at keeping it up to date, but for those that haven't seen it, check it out.

I will write soon about this week's meetings. Talk to you all later.


Thursday, February 1, 2007

Karaba Coffee Cooperative Meeting with the Animators

I just met with the Animators of the Karaba cooperative. The way that these cooperatives are structured is that at the top there is a management team. They are the accountants, the managers or various sorts and the president. They are the ones that speak with the banks for loans and foster business relations with those interested in buying their coffee. Below them is a group called the “animators” or sector representatives, and each one represents an body of coffee farmers in a certain geographical area. They themselves are also coffee farmers. They are the liaison between the management and the 2,000 coffee farmers within the cooperative. They communicate decisions made by the management to the farmers and also explain issues or opinions that the farmers want the management to be aware of.

I made it through the management and cleared up the topics of the program that they are involved with. So at the moment I am taking the program down to this second tier. I am explaining the program more clearly than what they heard vaguely from the management. I am also answering a slew of questions that they ask me about the program, the bicycles and the doubts that are associated with it. And this information will be then passed onto the farmers.

This meeting was fantastic because they really seemed to understand me, and those who I represent, and my motives. It is natural for them to be skeptical of this foreign program, some white guy coming in and trying have them buy this bicycle. They don’t know how much the bicycle is really worth, they don’t know if I am trying to rip them off, for all they know I just look like another business man trying to make a as much profit as I am able off them, like so many have done before. But in this meeting I answered with clarity and passion the question and complaint of the amount of the bicycle, “Why is the it 70,000francs ($120USD), why does it have to be so expensive?” I told them that the bicycle costs $100USD to make in the factory, and costs $20 to ship here, we are not making any money. This bicycle would cost four to five times as much in Europe or the U.S. and we could make a profit, but we are not selling it there, we are selling it here and not making it a profit. Because our motive is not to make money, it is to address the issues of Rwandan coffee farmers that bar them from prospering, mainly internal transportation issues. And we are trying to make the bicycle accessible through a three-year loan. There are plenty of people in this country that could buy the bicycle upfront, but we are not selling it to them, we are selling it to you because we want to partner with you in improving your livelihoods. The buyers of your coffee in the U.S., Canada and Europe and putting money into this program because they think it will both improve your economic situation and the product that they buy and sell in their countries. The group lightened up, and a few of them stood up, and with sincerity in their voice they said they the now understand the program, and why the program was there. It was a moment of satisfaction for me, because I felt like a bond of trust and understanding was being established for the program.

Later we wheeled the bicycle outside and I handed it over to Celestin who was going to use the bicycle for a month. The group chose him for this trial period because he used his bicycle frequently to carry things to the market and when he did not do that he would ride within the sector he was responsible to motivate and inform the coffee farmers. The moment I began speaking to him I sensed he was a sincere man, with a kind voice and respect we spoke with each other about the bicycle and the reason behind him using it for a month. He jumped on the bike and started riding it with familiarity. The group of 30 or so was formed around him, and they told him he couldn’t ride up a steep hill nearby. Apparently nobody could ride up this hill, so he took to the challenge and set off for the hill. A few minutes later on the opposing mountain you could see his little figure on the bicycle riding up the hill. They were cheering out of excitement of what that bicycle could do. I was soon bombarded with requests for the bicycle by non-coffee farmers. The farmers simply replied to them that if they were coffee farmers they could have access to the bicycle, and they should join the cooperative. Celestin returned with a smile and told me that this bicycle will make him a rich man. We will see how it goes in the month ahead.

There are two pictures above, the first is the meeting and the second is when I was explaining the features of the bicycle. The lady to the right explaining the bicycle, wearing my denim cowboy shirt, is Isabella. She is my intern and has been very helpful in translation and cultural insight. In the same picture there is Celestin, the man who is using that bicycle for a month. He is the one in the brown shirt and second from the left.