Nelly Bassily | June 27, 2011
Bernadette Mukamazimpaka was the only member of her family to survive the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. She says, “When I finished high school, the genocide happened. Everything was destroyed. The tea fields grew wild. I was lucky to survive.” She began growing tea in 1997. Now she farms one hectare of tea in Nshili, southern Rwanda.
Nshili is poorly suited to growing food crops because the soil is acidic. But fortunately for Bernadette, tea thrives here. She and other farmers rejuvenated the tea fields. In 2008, the Nshili tea factory opened. The factory was built as a public-private venture between investors and the United Nation’s International Fund for Agricultural Development, or IFAD. Bernadette says, “Since the arrival of the factory, every villager has been able to grow tea. That is why I too have a hectare of tea today.”
The villagers formed the Nshili-Kivu tea producers co-operative. With assistance from IFAD, the cooperative has a 15 per cent share in the factory. This has helped to build trust between the locals and the factory’s investors.
Michael Kanyongo is the factory manager. He says, “When you put up a factory like this … there could be a lot of suspicion.” But co-operative members serve on the factory’s board, and the management reports to them. Mr. Kanyongo says, “We have not had the tug-of-war we normally see between farmers and companies in other places.”
And the co-operative serves a social purpose, according to Bernadette. She says, “The co-operative is helping people here to achieve unity and reconciliation. Everyone experienced what happened here in our country; we know that divisions shattered the lives of Rwandans. So now in joining together, it helps us to rebuild our lives.”
Faustin Mazimzaka is president of the tea producers co-operative. He agrees with Bernadette, saying, “As regards unity and reconciliation, tea-growing has a role to play. Burundians have a saying: ‘Go to sleep with hunger and you wake up with hatred.’ So whenever there is tea-growing going on, people don’t worry about what to eat.”
Bernadette’s tea bushes are still young. They will be ready for harvest next year. She is content that the co-operative works with the factory. She says, “Now we have a place to take it [the tea]. Whatever quantity we grow, we know there will be no problem.”
She is able to look forward to a better future, saying, “The income from my own tea means that I will be able to send my children to school. And eventually they will be able to inherit the tea, because you know, tea grows forever.”
And because the co-operative plans to double its production, the chances are that its members will grow a lot more tea in the future.