Photo courtesy of Bikes to Rwanda
Welcome to Pedaling Change! There’s a lot of good work being done in the world of bikes, to alternative transportation advocacy to international development. To highlight some of the great action that’s going on out there, once a month we’ll be profiling a non-profit in the bike world to look at just how they’re working to make positive change.
When it comes to development, sometimes simple solutions have the greatest impact. That’s how Bikes to Rwanda (BTR) started, by asking one question and realizing that meaningful change could come from providing people with some of the simplest transportation on earth: a bicycle.
In its fourth year, the organization provides cargo bicycles to coffee co-operative farmers in Rwanda. By implementing a bike workshop and maintenance program, BTR provides transportation resources for basic needs and enhances production of quality coffee.
In the early 1990s Rwanda exported about 45,000 tons of coffee per year, a significant yield for a landlocked country. Then came the civil conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis, resulting in the massacre and deaths of close to one million people. Since that time, Rwanda has been in the throes of rebuilding, both a country and a culture. The coffee industry was hit hard as well, with much of the land destroyed and farmers killed. So in 2001, a program was put in place to help farmers recover their coffee industry, increase the efficiency of production, and highlight some of the finest coffee in the world.
This program, called Partnership for Enhancing Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages, has helped approximately 15,000 Rwandan coffee farmers organize 11 different cooperatives. BTR is now working to support those cooperatives. All with bicycles.
BTR Executive Director Brian Gilmore offered to answer some question to give us a little more insight into the organization and its work.
Give us a little background: what was the impetus for founding Bikes to Rwanda?
The impetus for the founding of BTR came from the community of coffee growers in Rwanda that Stumptown Coffee Roasters works with and that BTR now serves. Stumptown’s CEO and Green Coffee Buyer were visiting cooperatives and after witnessing how physically demanding a farmer’s daily routine was, they couldn’t help but wonder if there was something they could do to improve the farmers’ daily routines. They put the question, “what could make your work easier?” to the farmers and the farmers volunteered that bicycles could really improve the efficiency of their work.
Upon returning to Portland the guys from Stumptown rallied the coffee and bike communities and BTR was born.