CQI’s work in Rwanda began in 2004 with the Coffee Corps global program, a direct grant from USAID to develop Coffee Corps. The leaders of the PEARL project (Partnership for Enhancing Agriculture through Linkages in Rwanda), also USAID funded, reached out to CQI for volunteers to compliment their cupping program. The PEARL project and the subsequent SPREAD project were very successful, resulting in a complete transformation of the Rwandan coffee industry.
From 2005 to 2006, there were over 20 volunteers sent to Rwanda, primarily cupping trainers, but also baristas and market experts. These volunteers were of the highest quality and without them, the success of the PEARL project would not have been the same. In the early days, one volunteer recognized that the cleaning lady, Claire, was interested in the course and decided to include her, even though the locals weren't happy about it. She showed her skills and dedication during the course and is now one of the Rwandan coffee industry leaders.
From 2007 to 2012, most of the funding for CQI in Rwanda came from the regional USAID project with Steve Walls. This was a continuation of the previous work and CQI had an in-country partnership (ICP) with OCIR. OCIR no longer exists and the coffee sector is under the umbrella of the NAEB (National Agricultural Export Development Board), which handles all agricultural commodities. CQI has signed ICP agreements with NAEB, but some of the initial momentum has diminished mainly due to lack of funding. However, there are still active Q graders and some activity though the private sector. CQI has also been involved in research on the “potato taste” problem that is prevalent in Rwanda and Burundi.
Specialty buyers have been highlighting Rwanda coffees for over a decade now and high end Rwandan coffee can be seen globally.