Empowering Smallholder Farmers in Rwanda Through Sustainable Agroforestry

Meaghan Weeden | May 31, 2022 | 4 min read

Planting agroforestry Trees to improve lives and restore the environment 

Since we began in 2014, One Tree Planted has planted over 40,000,000 trees around the world. But reforestation is about so much more than trees, and every one of our projects has a unique impact for nature and communities. Some are especially close to our hearts — and our coffee agroforestry project in Rwanda is one.

Our reforestation partner KULA works to eradicate poverty through the development of entrepreneurs in Rwanda’s coffee producing communities. We’ve been working with them for 3 years now, and have already planted 250,000 trees and empowered over 300 farmers — the majority of which are women — in the Kayonza, Rusasa, and Nyamasheke regions. Upon maturation, the coffee seedlings that are planted, grown, and maintained by the farmers who received them, can provide sustainable income for these families for up to 30 years.

This year, we’re providing an additional 200,000 trees to 3 communities of smallholder coffee farmers in the Nyamasheke, Gakenke and Kayonza regions. 160,000 of these will be Arabica coffee tree seedlings (Bourbon Variety) and 40,000 will be shade tree seedlings (silk oak, umbrella, powder puff, and banana trees). Each community will receive tree seedlings to be planted and cultivated in separate nurseries until they’re ready to be distributed and planted by coffee farmers in November.

 Our Rwanda Coffee Agroforestry Project

How Sustainable Agroforestry Changes Lives for the better 

Growing shade trees together with coffee trees provides a powerful blend of economic and ecological benefits that extend far beyond carbon sequestration and biodiversity habitat. Shade trees protect the coffee trees from drought stress and harsh sun exposure, which increases the quality of the coffee harvest. They also improve soil health by helping to maintain the soil structure and replenishing soil nutrients that are used by the coffee trees. Soil quality is an important piece of the puzzle of any successful and sustainable farming operation.

You may think that coffee trees simply produce a delicious drink that helps you wake up in the morning or get your work done, but to smallholder coffee farmers, these trees are a lifeline. More than just a source of income or a sustainable forest product, they provide an opportunity to change their lives for the better.

The extra income and stability that comes from sustainably grown coffee beans enables farmers to invest in themselves, building hope, strength and vision for a brighter future. They’re able to provide better healthcare for their families, send their children to school, put nutritious food on the table, and increase their savings. And every farmer empowered means lasting impact and change for the larger community. 

woman sustainable agroforestry rwanda

The KULA Fellowship Program

In addition to planting sustainable agroforestry and shade trees, our partner is empowering farmers through their 15-month KULA Fellowship program. Within this program, they’re trained in coffee agronomy and learn the best practices for taking care of their trees and farms to produce the best harvest and the most income for themselves and their families. This empowers them to not only better their coffee businesses, but care for and protect the land they depend on through informed and sustainable practices.

Women farmers are also trained by expert agronomists in tree canopy management, coffee tree and variety characteristics, soil productivity, harvesting, erosion control, weeding and waste management, composting and amendment, shade trees and more.

One such woman is Anita. A young mother and brand new coffee farmer in Kayonza, she and her husband have a sweet three-year-old boy named Fabrice and are currently working together to cultivate their coffee farm of 500 coffee trees.

Before beginning farm training through the KULA Fellowship, Anita would plant crops without knowing any of the best practices. Now, she knows how to plant properly — including knowing the correct measurement of the holes and proper spacing between other crops. She’s also learned about the importance of record keeping within her farm and business in order to monitor her farm’s success. Her relationship with the fellowship program mentors and experience with personal development training so far has been focused on Self-Esteem training. While having been, admittedly, a struggle for her, she knows it’s a journey and looks forward to gaining more and more as she continues to grow.

Her vision for the future is to first develop herself so that she has the self-esteem and strength to move forward. Second, she dreams of paying school fees for her son throughout his education. And third, in addition to bettering her coffee business, she hopes to also own a shop to generate supplementary income in order to support herself and her family throughout the year.

hands sustainable agroforestry seedlings

Here's How You can support this project

While every farmer that’s empowered through this project has a unique story to tell, one thread that weaves them all together is a powerful drive to improve their lives and the lives of their families through sustainable agroforestry and coffee farming. We're honored to support them in this work, and look forward to seeing what the future holds for them.

Want to support this amazing project? Plant Trees in Rwanda today!

Want to try the coffee produced through this initiative? Visit the KULA Market to get your sustainably grown brew today!

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Gift Trees

Gifting a tree in someone's name is a heartfelt and everlasting way to show your appreciation. Make someone smile with delight knowing they are helping to create a healthier planet! Choose an image below, write your message, and gift a tree. Learn more

By gifting a tree, you will help to:

  • Reforest areas affected by environmental disasters
  • Restore native biodiversity to protect holistic ecosystems
  • Boost the liveliness of local communities
  • Trees play a very important role in our lives; they clean the air we breathe, filter the water we drink, and provide habitat to more than 80% of the world's terrestrial biodiversity. Not to mention, forests provide jobs to over 1.6 billion people, absorb harmful carbon from the atmosphere, and are key ingredients in 25% of all medicines.
  • The trees you are helping to plant will create an incredibly positive impact on nature, people, and wildlife. Since the need for reforestation is global and always changing, we will distribute your donation to a project where funding is most needed now.
  • Both you and the giftee will receive a personalized tree certificate (see gallery) with the recipient's name to thank you for your donation. The giftee will get a custom e-card created by you on your date of choice. We will also send you updates about this project, so you can track the impact your trees are having on the community and environment.
  • In order to maximize the impact of your donation across our multiple projects, we will plant a variety of tree species native to the area that we are reforesting. For example, we plant Polylepsis trees in the Andes since they have adapted to the extremely high altitude. We sometimes plant fruit trees in Africa for agroforestry in order to generate long-term benefits for local communities. In India, Avicennia alba mangroves are planted along the coast as they are resistant to the impact of lower tidal currents.

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