Backstory: Beans that grow hope

An aid group heals hatred in Rwanda by getting historically hostile ethnic groups to grow coffee together.

The "land of a thousand hills" is in the midst of an uphill climb back to normalcy. Known for the genocide that a decade ago claimed 800,000 lives in 100 days as Hutus massacred Tutsis, Rwandans may find that one road to healing leads through their country's thousands of coffee fields, where Hutus and Tutsis now grow their crop – together.

Through a program called PEARL, Partnership to Enhance Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkage, farmers are learning how to produce a top-quality coffee they can sell on the stable gourmet food market, bringing in four times what they made five years ago.

"Our focus is on economic development," says Dan Clay, director of the Institute of International Agriculture at Michigan State University, who created the program. "But in the end, because this program works with communities and cooperatives, these are opportunities for people to work side by side. It has to have an important healing element in it."

Supported by a USAID grant, PEARL teaches farmers how to properly sort the beans for quality, use wet milling at community washing stations, and sun dry them on raised beds.

Hutus and Tutsis are finding they need to rely on each other to succeed in this industry, which employs 40 percent of Rwandans. This country of noncoffee drinkers hopes they will soon be known more for their coffee than for murder.

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