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Arkansas Small Business Brews Up Big Change to Rwandan Coffee Industry with OPIC Support


Workers working at a Rwanda coffee mill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – An Arkansas small business is modernizing virtually every aspect of Rwanda’s coffee industry – upgrading technology, increasing production, converting waste to biofuel, raising wages and gaining access to global markets – with the support of $19.4 million in political risk insurance from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the U.S. Government’s development finance institution.

The project is poised to transform Rwanda’s critical coffee sector into a model of sustainable impact investment in food security and renewable resources by increasing output  in an environmentally-friendly way that optimizes  human and technological resources.

The Rwanda Trading Company (RTC), a subsidiary of Arkansas’ Westrock Coffee Holdings, is using the OPIC insurance to cover its investment in a coffee milling and processing facility in Kigali, with coffee washing stations located across the country. 

The project could transform Rwanda’s coffee industry through several key features:
  • It  is providing training and technical assistance to coffee farmers in modern cultivation and harvest techniques that will enhance crop yields;  
  • RTC is developing a network of international buyers, facilitating Rwandan suppliers’ access to new markets while providing them with coffee prices that have already increased wages to new levels – with the effect of dramatically changing the market price paid across the coffee sector in Rwanda; 
  • It employs an agricultural extension loan program using internationally-trained agronomists to implement the most state-of-the-art technology in organic farming and decomposition, resulting in the conversion of coffee byproducts to biofuels such as fertilizer and compost;
  • RTC will help Rwandan farmers obtain Fair Trade and Rain Forest Alliance certifications, which will further help them access global markets.
“RTC is providing Rwanda with a state-of-the-art model for all facets of its coffee industry, from production and management practices to its impact on local economic growth,” said OPIC President and CEO Elizabeth L. Littlefield. “The project at its most basic level  will improve the lives of Rwanda’s coffee farmers. Because coffee in Rwanda is grown by poor smallholders, who make up 90 percent of the population, positive changes in coffee's terms of trade like those produced by this project will benefit them directly.”

RTC and Westrock are the brainchild of Scott Ford, majority shareholder and founder of both. Formerly CEO of Alltel Corporation, an Arkansas telecommunications company, Ford formed RTC in 2009 as a for-profit coffee exporter, buying and rehabilitating an existing coffee mill in Kigali’s Gikondo Industrial Park. 

"Westrock Coffee was established as a for-profit business with the goal of making a sustainable difference in the lives of the poorest of the poor by providing them better access to the global marketplace,” said Ford. “OPIC insurance has been a key difference maker in this endeavor by allowing us to be aggressive in our facility expansion and farmer outreach programs while reiterating to our international trading partners and lenders the economic viability of this type of transformative investment," he added.
 
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OPIC is the U.S. Government’s development finance institution.  It mobilizes private capital to help solve critical development challenges and in doing so, advances U.S. foreign policy.  Because OPIC works with the U.S. private sector, it helps U.S. businesses gain footholds in emerging markets catalyzing revenues, jobs and growth opportunities both at home and abroad.  OPIC achieves its mission by providing investors with financing, guarantees, political risk insurance, and support for private equity investment funds.

Established as an agency of the U.S. Government in 1971, OPIC operates on a self-sustaining basis at no net cost to American taxpayers. OPIC services are available for new and expanding business enterprises in more than 150 countries worldwide. To date, OPIC has supported more than $200 billion of investment in over 4,000 projects, generated an estimated $75 billion in U.S. exports and supported more than 277,000 American jobs.