Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Thanks Dahon!!!

(Joshua Dahon is on the right)

I wanted to thank Dahon Bicycles for all their hard work to finish these bicycles before the end of the coffee season. The 1,000 bicycles that Dahon built that are currently being ridden by farmers in these cooperatives were just a drawing last September. I remember that last September I was here in Rwanda with my father meeting with farmers talking about the design, and now 8 months later they are being ridden by those farmers. It took alot of effort from many people to have them done in time; Tom, those at Project Rwanda like John Frechette, Tim at SPREAD and Joshua Dahon at Dahon Bicycles. So, thanks all!!!!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Karaba Update with the Coffee Bike Program

I just sat down with the Karaba president and the coffee bicycle accountant to speak about how the coffee bike program has been going the past week and a half/two weeks. They have about 60 or so bicycles running at the moment.

Both described how nearly all the farmers have abided by their contracts and are bringing in the coffee on time for the early "coffee bike" washing time (3pm). With 60 bicycles they have already seen a ton increase in this early washing time in comparison to last year. And there are other coffee farmers that have ordinary bicycles bringing their coffee before 3pm in order to show that they can obey the program in order to hopefully receive a coffee bike in the future. Also with these coffee farmers using their normal bicycles they are being more faithful to the cooperative and not selling so much to other competing private coffee companies. (There are 2 competing private washing stations that have persuaded Karaba coffee farmers to sell to them because they offer cash on the spot.)

The bikes are an absolute rave. I hear every time I go to the cooperatives about how people think that they are so great, that people that bought coffee bikes and owned the ordinary/Chinese bicycles sold their ordinary/Chinese because they saw no need to keep it around. People are amazed by the simple fact of riding up hills, or carrying people and cargo on the back of the bicycles or carrying so much coffee down the hill. On average there is 120-150 kilos of coffee being transported to the washing station at Karaba on the back of coffee bicycles.

Even though the bikes are a hit, they are however not a 100% perfect. There are many cases of flat tires, loose bottom brackets and people flipping over the bars due to not being accustomed to the super powerful brakes (we are working on this in the education given at the distribution of the bicycles).

The second set of 500 is coming out of customs tomorrow, and Monday it will start all again.

The picture is of an old farmre buying the bicycle, quite a charatcher.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Finished the first 500 bikes!!!!

Wow, i just checked the last of the 500 bikes about 20 minutes ago. 13 days of building with 23-24 mechanics. The least in one day was 24, the most in one day was 62, the average was right around 50.

I gave them all their own multi-tool that they were working with for the two weeks. They will be the ones that everyone know can work on these bikes, I think these tools are in the best hands.

Thanks to Chris and Joe for all their hard work!!!

The next 500 got into customs, should be out in two week, then another 10-13 days of building will ensue. I think that we can build them all in 10 days.

I am going to enjoy an afternoon off now.


Friday, May 4, 2007

Tool List and Pictures from Maraba Distribution

Thanks for the eager and quick responses from my latest blog entry, very encouraging. Thanks for wanting to help and I look forward to what you all come up with. We have to think though how we will get these tools over to Rwanda. I will try to coordinate with those coming over here and you all can send the tools to them. And if you raise money we can approach Park Tools or through Quality Bicycle Products to buy them at wholesale or possibly have them donated.

The tool list is as follows. They all have addresses to the Park Tool website for visuals. Note: I do not need the specific ones that i am showing you, they are only examples.

1) A Muiti-tool is of the greatest importance. Because it has many tools into one. The main tools in it are a 4, 5, and 6 mm allen/hex wrenches. They also have flathead screwdrivers and philips head screwdrivers. Other important allen/hex wench sizes are 2.5, and 8 mm. It would be ideal for all farmers to have one of these, or if that is not realistic at the moment, which it kinda is, then as many as are possible.

-I know the above might sound pretty confusing to those that have no idea about bike tools, so the individual tools that i listed that comprise of a multi-tool can also be found by themselves. Allen/hex wrenches look like these, OR

-Of these individual tools i mentioned in muiti-tool, the 2.5, 5 and 6 mm allen/hex wrench are the most important by far. But the 5mm is the needed of these three. Then the 8 mm is the next most nessisary, then the screwdrivers.

2) Bottom Bracket Tools (the bearings where your cranks are, that make you spin your legs a'round and a'round. These tools are,
A) 20 tooth SISI Bottom Bracket tools, these are typically used for Shimano Bottom Brackets.
B)15mm socket wrench for crank arm bolts, also called a crank wrench.
C) Crank Pullers (a tool that pulls the crank arms off of the bottom bracket spindle).
D) Spanner, or a Bottom Bracket Lock Ring tool.

3) Chain Tool -

4) Cassette Tool/shimano style freewheel remover.

5) Pumps with for Schrader valves.

Thanks all for wanting to have information to run with on this need. I hope this helps.

The Pictures: Today was a long day, I distributed 100 bicycles at Maraba. It was chaotic!!! It was exciting. It took nearly all day. These pictures are of the farmers signing the contract before receiving the bicycle, then the other one is looking out onto the distribution. Then my camera ran out of batteries so I couldn't take any shots outside. There will be outside distribution shots shortly.

I have to say that when I rode home in the back of a large truck that we used to transport the bikes to the cooperative, I was able to see people riding their coffee bikes home. They has people on the back of them. It is really cool to see.

In two days the first 500 bicycles will be built, then throughout next week we are going to distribute. Whoo Hooo!!!

Talk to you all later.


Thursday, May 3, 2007

A need from the Coffee Bike Crew, a word from Jay Ritchey (SPREAD-USAID) and Chris Huff-Hanson & Joe Goemaat (Scallywags)

From Jay:

Dear supporters,

As many of you know through the blog, we in the Coffee Bike Program are in the middle of building our first batch of 500 coffee bicycles. The past week and a half working alongside these 23 Rwandan mechanics has been an amazing time for Chris, Joe and I. The friendships we are developing, the equal exchange of ideas and skills and their ability to amaze us by their dedication and improvement in building these bicycles will not be forgotten. They are excited about bringing these bicycles to the masses just like we are.

As we move along in the program there are challenges that we have to adjust for and address. Many of these adjustments we can handle inside Rwanda, without the help from outside. But there are aspects that need outside help to ensure the longevity of these bicycles and the program. Chris and Joe coming over here to assist building the first 500 is a perfect example. Their skills working on bicycles similar to these coffee bikes was essential in maintaining a quality level of built bicycles to sell to farmers, and their skills of these bicycles were spread over the 23 mechanics whom will be the future maintainers of the bicycles.

Currently we are confronting a new imminent issue that has to be solved with the help from outside. The issue is the reality that there are far less tools and pumps than are needed to maintain these bicycles in these cooperatives. You may ask, why are there not enough tools and pumps? And why didn’t Jay prepare for this obvious upcoming need? Well I could shoot off a list of excuses and blame them on other people, and those people could equally divert the blame onto other people, aspects or me. Let’s just say it is complicated working in a project here in Rwanda, having to coordinate with Texas A&M university and Project Rwanda in the U.S. and it all fall into place by sourcing and shipping it from China and Taiwan. It was a learning experience and the mistakes are noted and we will try to prepare of it better next time. But regardless of how it happened the fact is that we still have the need. This is where the help from outside comes in.

The tools needed to repair these bicycles are not available in this country, even Allen wrenches are difficult to find and when they are they are extremely expensive ($3 for a “L” shaped 5mm). And Rwanda is a landlocked country, without railroad and 45 days sea freight from China. It is a challenge to get anything here. In the long run I think that it would be a good idea of raise funds in the U.S. through groups that are excited and wanting to be involved in the program to sponsor a coffee bike shop in Rwanda or farmers. They would donate a certain amount for a set of tools for a bike shop or a multi-tool and pump for a farmer and then have them shipped from Asia when the shipment is large enough to justify the shipping of a ’20 or ‘40 container. But at the moment we cannot wait this long. So what I am proposing is that with the help of you in the U.S. to assemble sets of tools that you either collect yourselves or have donated from local bike shops, wholesalers (QBP) or manufacturers (Park in Minneapolis). And with these tools find someone who is coming to Rwanda in the near future to carry them, like those from Bull Run roasters, or Bikes To Rwanda, those from Saddleback, Jacob from Berkley and his father and friends.

So what do you all think? Could you help with this?

Now, thinking more long term…

In about a month and a half or two months there are 1,000 more coffee bicycles coming to Rwanda. With this shipment there are spare parts and tools accounting for 2,000 bicycles. These spare parts and tools, however, are limited and will diminish with time and it will be in the best interest of the program to keep this inventory replenished.

I am looking in Asia currently to find good quality multi-tools that would be ideal for sponsoring a farmer or a group of farmers. They will cost about $1.00, without shipping. We can find pumps for about $3.00. I think this might be a good program for the years ahead.

I am also working on a sponsorship program for spare parts where groups can sponsor a “bike shop package” that includes spare parts that will last for a year or so. After this coffee season and the use of the coffee bikes we can better understand the amounts and proportions of these spare parts that we will need for a certain number of coffee bikes.

These more long terms ideas that I just described are open for comments and suggestions, they are just ideas that I am working on, that some of you might run with and find ways of achieving them.

Please write me and give me any suggestions that you may have.



Jay Ritchey


From Chris and Joe:

Thank you QBP and Park Tool for your tool donation. Your donations have been absolutely vital to us getting these 500 bikes on the ground.

Affordable shipping is a huge challenge here. Quality Bicycle Products, are you able to offer a lower price in shipping tools and pumps to Rwanda than DHL or other airfreight companies who charge about $700/lb. Also would you be willing to ask for tool donations with the shops and connections you have?

To our friends at shops in Minneapolis, this is a great way to do what you do best and to get behind a great cause to get people on bicycles. Shaun, Gene, Hurl, Scallywags, Greasepit, we are talking to you.

-Chris & Joe

Sunday, April 29, 2007

First Distribution

Yesterday the coffee bike program had its first bike distribution in the Karaba cooperative. I brought 47 bicycles to the coop, and unfortunately due to an earlier rain in the day only half the people showed up to receive the bikes. The ones who did receive them were briefed on the contract, paid the down payment and became oriented to the bikes. The farmers surround the bikes and were told via my interpreter, Douglas and Isabella, the new aspects of the bike. The farmers jumped on and began grinding the gears up hills, slamming on the brakes and locking up the wheels. Nothing got hurt, both the farmers and the bikes.

They were very excited accepting them and riding them as they realized the difference of the bicycles that they were used to and the new ones they were riding. For me, it was a great experience and I saw that all this was actually falling into place. I, however, was so tired at that point from building the bikes the week prior and organizing the distribution to really appreciate it, or show excitement for it at the distribution. But after driving home in the latter hours of the day leaving 25 farmers with these bikes behind made me have a sense of achievement.

We are also going to keep distributing this week and hopefully get about 200 bikes.

The top picture is some farmers posing with their new bikes. The second picture is a wooden bike juxtaposed to the coffee bike, both the old and the new way of transporting goods.

Thanks for your comments and encouragement throughout this time!!!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Bike Building Picutres

I took these this morning. We are at about 100 bikes.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Building the 500

The bikes are here and have been offloaded in a warehouse that we are renting in Butare. 20 mechanics showed up the first day of building, and now all the 23 have made it. We are entering into our 3rd day of building at the moment, and we are aiming for 40 to be built today. Remember on my latest posting when i mentioned how we were going to build hundreds of bikes a day when they arrive? - well lets just say i was shooting high. The total over the last two days is about 65.

The mechanics are all working well. Chris, Joe and I are running around checking bikes and answering questions. We are jumping in there with them, working at the same lever with the mechanics, there is friendships building between us, along with laughing usually stemming from us trying to pronounce the local language.

Tomorrow I will distribute the bicycles built in the past three days to the Karaba cooperative. I hope that we will have about 100.

Sorry for the lack of pictures and detail. We are working alot these days and usually have our hands jammed into the parts of the bicycle, not smacking the keys of our computers. So, I will plan on taking some pictures today and tomorrow and throwing them on the blog.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Scallywags Arrives

Joey & Chris came in last Sunday. They are from Scallywags bicycle cooperative in Minneapolis, MN. They have come to help with mechanic training in the cooperatives and to help with the building of the 1,000 bicycles coming into the country currently. The bikes have been imprisoned in the customs since the 2nd of April, and we will have them emancipated in a few days (fingers crossed). 500 are in customs, and 500 are going to arrive in Rwanda in the next few days.

Anyways, Joey & Chris rested up for an afternoon and the next day they came with me out to Nyakizu yesterday, a cooperative receiving 100 bicycles. We trained 5 mechanics from the cooperative, each coming from a different sector and one that works at the washing station. We hope that this will help those with the coffee bike over the wider area. I went into a meeting with the President, Vice President and the secretary of the cooperative and Joey & Chris went strait into guiding the mechanics workshop. They did great in explaining the way in which to adjust the brakes, the derailleur, the bottom bracket, the headset and many other aspects of the bicycle. They went about teaching in a very patient and encouraging way. They really believe in this program, in the value of the bicycle to change lives, and they have a desire to teach, to encourage and motivate bicycle culture in general. It is great having them here.

We are now waiting for the bikes to come out of customs, and when they arrive it will get pretty crazy. We will be building hundreds of bikes a day while simultaneously distributing them in cooperatives. I will keep this updated as well as I can during this time.

Talk to you later.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Quick Update

Hey folks. Sorry it has been a while since my last post. I have been pretty busy lately and have not had the time, or really the idea of throwing something up on the blog due to my mind being on other matters. But today I want to tell all that the bicycles are going through customs at the moment here in Kigali. They should be out in about a week.

Within the past couple months I have been busy still prepping the ground of the coffee bikes. The past week and a half I have been training two groups of mechanics from the Karaba and Maraba cooperatives to build the bikes when they come into town. They have been good to work with overall, of course there have been cultural challenges along the way, but I have to say that I have a crew of bright, hard working, and cool individuals. They have been great to work with. The picture above is the Maraba group working on dissasembling a bike and putting it back together. I hope that out of these groups will come those that will man the bike shops that are going up at the processing/washing stations. The sustainability of the program lies in these people, and I hope that I and others coming over here will further educate them in these bicycles.

I am working on making metal racks for these bicycles at the moment as well. I am hiring a local metal shop to crank out 1,000 racks to fix to the top of the bicycle. The metal shops in this country are crazy. Their welders are homemade, made out of copper coils with some wires stringing from them, to make up the welding gun and the ground. They weld without eye protection most of the time, and when they do have eye protection they use normal sun glasses. Then there are the grinders in the metal shops, with red hot sparks blowing in whichever direction, no eye or ear protection. I tell ya, they are nutz.

Anyways, there are other things as well like making educational material for working on the bicycles when the farmers receive them. All in their local language, Kinyerwanda. I also have a list of Kinyerwanda saying of bike parts and actions for some of us foreigners to use while working alongside these Rwandans. I will list some below.

Well, I hope to throw up some more exciting posts in the near future when these bicycles are distributed in the coops.

Thanks for reading. -Jay

Kinyerwanda Bike Parts and Actions. I know, this is very aplicable material.

Bicycle – singular: igare (ee-gare-eh)
Plural: amagare (ah-mah-gare-eh)

Wheel – Ipine (ee-peen-ney)
Tire – Ipine / Umupira (ooh-mooh-peer-rah)
Handlebars – Amahembe (ah-mah-hem-bey)
Frame – Kadre (cod-rey)
Crank Arm – Manuveri (man-oo-ver-ee)
Pedal – Ikirenge (ee-kee-rein-gey)

Tighten – Funga (foon-gah)
Tighten a lot/hard – Funda Chaney (foon-gah cha-ney)
Tighten this Bolt – Funga iri bulo (foon-gah ee-ree boo-lo)

Loosen – Fungura (foon-goo-rah)
Loosen this bolt – Fungura iri bulo (foon-goo-rah ee-ree boo-lo)

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Free Ride

Mid-west Rwanda does not have one flat portion to it. So local bike riders limited to one gear have to take advantage of their motorized and stronger road companions on the inclines by latching on the back of their trailers. And they do it in style, usually they sit side-saddle on the top tube, use one hand to fasten to some handle-like thing on the back and the other hand flops around in the air. And they usually do it in crews, 4+ people. This picture is a bit blurry (meant to be artistic), but you can see how they sit. I have not yet built up the confidence to do it.

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.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

the 13 cooperative leaders

So I just met with the presidents of the 13 coffee cooperatives in a large meeting. They represent roughly 30,000 small-holder coffee farmers (small-holder means that they each own about 200 trees). It was a yearly meeting they have before the next coffee season, where they review issues during the last coffee season and prepare and strategize for the upcoming season. A major topic that we hit on that brought out passionate opinions was the issue of the transportation of coffee cherries within the coffee cooperatives themselves.

To those who have not read earlier things I or other have written, or if you want to recap, I will explain roughly explain how these coffee cooperatives run in the coffee season. There is a washing station hubed in the middle of thousands of small-holder coffee farmers. Some farmers live 5 or even 10 kilometers away from the washing stations and they need to get their picked coffee from their little farm to the washing station (where they process the coffee) as soon as possible, within hours preferably. Now imagine thousands of people trying to do this at once, walk if they can, ride their bikes if they can along these muddy steep roads in the middle of the rainy season. The cooperative only can afford a few trucks to assist these farmers. These trucks can cost upwards of $1,900 USD a month, and they come out of the farmer’s pockets. And these trucks go to certain locations where farmers drop-off their cherries and the truck picks them up to bring to the washing station. At these pick-up points in the hills surrounding the washing stations the washing station managers weigh the individual amounts of the picked cherries, and give the farmers a note for credit to redeem later. They have to get the cherries on the trucks into the washing station before dark because at night they are more vulnerable to the cherries being robbed off the trucks and sold to competing private coffee companies. They are also in such a rush to get these cherries to the washing station that they are not able to sort and asses the quality of the coffee cherries that they are throwing into the trucks, thus assuring a lower value of coffee. In addition, every hour that passes of the coffee cherries not being processed the worse their quality becomes.

So when the bicycle came up in the discussion it was the solution to their problem. The president of Musasa Coffee Cooperative, probably the most successful coffee cooperative in Rwanda, said that in the 2006 season the produced 5 containers of specialty coffee. 4 containers were completed with the trucks, the last container was collected only by bicycles. No trucks were involved and all the coffee was brought directly to the washing station on bikes. They didn’t experience the logistical nightmare that they had before on the trucks, no coffee was stolen and the quality had risen. The cooperative management hired local young guys in the cooperative that had bicycles to makes these runs, and the cost of renting these men with the bikes was far cheaper than hiring a truck to gather the amount for this container. This container was the cheapest and made the most profit for the cooperative. I am in the process of retrieving this information at the moment. But this little story is key; if they promote that to other cooperatives the bikes will soar with evidence to keep it up.

I have never seen such a passionate desire to have these bicycles before this meeting. All cooperative chairmen were anxious to have their next coffee season use these bikes. We have a large demand to be met, and it will be great when it does.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Maraba Cooperative Bike Test Week.

So, I thought that there was going to be a few people attending this meeting. Turns out that about 70 showed. They standing on the side of this hill down from where the cooperative headquarters are, spread out like people in an amphitheater, and I was the one going to be the one down in the front, putting on the show.

Nervous from the numbers I made my way to the stage with my friend and translator, Jean Claude, and the cooperative manager, Juvenile. We then launched into the program, why the bike was coming to coffee farmers, how it would work within the cooperative, and of course we talked about the price. Slowly people gravitated off the hill and huddled around the bicycle, blocking the view from the higher onlookers. But I guess those were the ones who were really interested.

I then met the farmer who was going to use the bicycle for a month. He was a small businessman who transports goods to the market on his standard Rwandan old fashioned bicycle. Now with the new Ubike he can compare performances, and we can begin to understand the benefits of the Ubike in relation to the standard bikes. I will follow up with him in two weeks and then in a month.