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.


mark said...

Hey Jay, good post. 'Animators' is such a great term... would that all God's people were animators! Wasn't there a rock band by that name? Seriously, though, achieving a level of trust with such a group of salt of the earth farmers, cross-culturally, and in spite of Anglo history in Africa not to mention the local history, is quite an accomplishment, and reflects the quality of character you are bringing to the work.
So the non-coffee farmers are getting interested, too, eh?... no surprise there. I was struck by your comment about sensing that Celestin is a sincere man from the moment you began speaking with him, relative to some of the things you mentioned in the past about truthfulness and survival. Instinct is powerful, but it cuts both ways when there are instincts with competing interests. Fear versus appropriately informed caution and guarded self-preservation is in play on both sides of the cultural divide and it defines being human more than it defines 'us versus them'. Somewhere in the human spirit there is a place of being that can suffer being duped and/or mistrusted without being outraged, insulted, fear-reactive, or ego-duck-ruptured (just coined that concept) etc. as long as one goes in informed of real human nature and doesn't place other innocents in jeopardy along with one's own trust. I hope you are staking out some of that territory in an empowering way, because i suspect 1.) you can use that in your current situ, and 2) it can be transformative to others when they encounter it and allow themselves to be touched.
Blog on, bro.

Bradley said...

First time using your blog...

It is a pity the bicycle industry has not kept up with other industries in Africa - growing the market by providing appropriate technology vehicles. I really applaud your efforts to not give the bicycle away. When one buys something it promotes ownership and upkeep. How do you bring the bicycles in? by container? How many do you have in stock and what are your distribution estimates in the near future?


Bradley Schroeder

Pamela said...

This is amazing. I never had a doubt, but to read how it is all playing out I am so excited for you! Mr. Ritchey, you are changing the world...

Jay Ritchey said...

Hey Bradley, we are making them in China with some good factories, and then we ship them through Dar El Salaam in Tanzania to Kigali, Rwanda. We cram about 300sih in a 40' container. Costs a load to have them shipped, like 20% of overall price. We just started producing them, there are 500 done and on their way, another 500 will be wrapped up soon and anotehr 1000 will will be done in June. People here in the coffee cooperatives are fighting over them so we are just going to keep cranking them out, maybe 5000 over the next year or so. Yea, we have to sell them, both b/c we want people to take ownership and secondly b/c we want this to be sustainable and smooth, not always choking up b/c of lack of donor money like many other NGO's. We have to run it like a business and an aid/economc development org. It is a work in progress. Thanks for reading, stay tuned.