Passionately caring about the well-being of others and a meticulous attention to detail…Those two traits sum up Agnes Mukamushinja, Felix Hitayezu and the Nova Coffee team. You have to pay attention to the small print when your experience is in running a pharmacy. Pharmacist Felix Hitayezu and his wife Agnes Mukamushinja (nurse) run a pharmacy called “Pharmacie Nova” in Kigali, and only recently decided to dip their toes into a coffee venture 5 years ago, which they aptly named “Nova Coffee”. The result? A coffee program run with as much professionalism as a pharmacy.
Before they started they came up with an official vision and mission statement. The Nova Official vision reads, “At Nova Coffee, we envision to drive community socioeconomic welfare through the enhancement of improved coffee farming practices.” The Nova Official mission statement reads: “Being a women-centered washing station, Nova Coffee is committed to developing the neighboring community into specialized coffee farmers that produce the highest quality coffee as well as to enhancing the social cohesion in order to create more jobs and eradicate poverty”.
Truly socially motivated dreamers– our kind of people! Why coffee though? During the genocide Agnes saw most of the coffee trees get destroyed in her village, trees that her father spent his entire 50 year career supporting, as a coffee agronomist and mobilizer. The remaining trees were of low quality and all coffee was being processed as semi-washed. In Agnes’s words, “We bought a decrepit old washing station to fix up and try and lift up the village”. That village, Bukure, is a beautiful few hour drive north from Kigali, through valleys of rice fields and banana trees. Agnes quickly signed up for every possible resource that the Rwandan government was providing for the coffee sector and set her office up at NAEB (National Agricultural Development Export Board) to make sure she didn’t miss any opportunity. She joined Rwanda’s IWCA chapter, and eagerly partook in any free trainings that were made available. She quickly targeted the coveted value-added product market, and worked with the non-profit TWIN to launch a domestic roasted coffee brand called “Le Cafe de Mamans”. That coffee is grown by 263 women of the local Berwa Cooperative, then roasted in Kigali and sold around Rwanda’s tourist market. It’s still in the early stages, but the women have been energized by the project and realize that Agnes means business! Due to the rezoning law passed by the Rwandan government in 2017, now only 3 cooperatives deliver their coffee cherries to Nova to get processed. They are the Jyambere Muhinzi Wakawa Cooperative, the Dukorere Kawa Cooperative, and the aforementioned Berwa Cooperative. This special natural processed lot was grown by farmers who live just adjacent to the washing station in the Bukure sector. Some of these farmers are members of the Dukorere Kawa Cooperative but chose to have these cherries be sold to Nova outside of the cooperative. This was an experimental lot in its first year and they hit it out of the park. Like the saying goes, it didn’t just happen. Part of being a good manager is surrounding yourself with great talent, and Agnes has brought top notch people into the Nova Team in the past few years. Celeste is their quality control manager with over 20 years of experience, and a big part of the success of this lot. It’s rare to see him without his notebook, phone, and moisture reader. Thacien is their full-time, year round agronomist for farmers with a goal of bringing production up to 10 kilos per tree. Theresa manages their daily operations, farmer organization, and gender equity trainings. This list goes on and on. The cherries dry over the course of 18 days for roughly 9 hours a day, while being carefully watched over by Celeste. Suffice it to say, we are thrilled to introduce the US market to this special group and their coffee.