Spotlight on OPIC Impact Award winner: Westrock Coffee
Insufficient access to credit and an inability to connect with international markets are two barriers that commonly trap farmers in poverty in the developing world. Today, millions of smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa live at or near the subsistence level.
OPIC supports multiple projects to help these farmers improve yields and efficiency, reach larger markets and escape poverty. At the 2016 OPIC Impact Awards honoring excellence in development, OPIC recognized one of its agriculture partners, Westrock Coffee Holdings, of Little Rock, Arkansas, with an Impact Award in the Innovation category, for its work modernizing Rwanda’s coffee sector.
While innovation is often associated with the high-tech sector, it is essential to effective development, and a few years ago, Rwanda’s coffee industry was in need of some innovation. Although the high altitude and rolling hills of Rwanda produce some of the finest coffee beans on the planet, many farmers were using outdated processes and aging facilities.
With the support of OPIC political risk insurance, Westrock helped modernize the coffee industry and empower small coffee growers by investing in upgrading much of the infrastructure across the production chain, from cherry washing stations in the countryside to a coffee mill in Kigali. Today it continues to provide training and technical assistance in sustainable farming practices, to offer an agricultural extension loan program, and to work to connect local growers with international buyers. As a result, Rwandan coffee growers are earning more income the coffee they produce can now be purchased in major grocery chains in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Westrock Chief Financial Officer Stephen Miller accepted the award during the July 7 ceremony and spoke about how OPIC had supported Westrock’s work.
Today in Rwanda, the country’s coffee sector is an example of how innovation can breathe new life into an old, struggling industry. OPIC was also innovative in crafting an innovative political risk insurance package that would cover the unique risks facing Westrock in landlocked Rwanda, including multi-country transport coverage, possible coffee tariff changes and other regulatory variations, as well as political violence.