Espoir Tuyisenge, nicknamed Esp (pronounced Es · pee), is a soft spoken, kind and intuitive 22-year-old from Rwanda who loves coffee. Esp came to the United States in 2013 to double major in food industry management and agriculture business management at Michigan State University. This summer, Esp will be in Rwanda conducting a project focusing on the production of coffee and its inclusion of women. 

Espoir Tuyisenge is a sophomore at Michigan State University. He is a double major in food industry management and agriculture business management.
Espoir Tuyisenge is a sophomore at Michigan State University. He is a double major in food industry management and agriculture business management. Photo: Ben Muir.

“Rwanda depends on agriculture as the main source of income,” Esp said.And coffee is the big industry that fuels the economy.”

Coffee in Rwanda differs from coffee in the United States, however. In the U.S., coffee is predominantly a consumption-based entity, and many drinkers have become alienated from the product. Whereas in Rwanda, coffee is a competitive business. Farmers in Rwanda produce the beans that will later be exported to other countries for sale. But the actual drink is not popular among the people, Esp said.

“I’m pretty sure 90 percent of people back in Rwanda don’t even drink coffee. It’s because Rwanda doesn’t process the coffee itself, but rather it produces green beans. Then the beans are sent to American outlets like Starbucks to produce the finest coffee,” Esp said. “And people in Rwanda can’t afford it. They just sell their beans.”

Women in Rwanda are at the forefront of coffee farming. Esp said women do the majority of the work involved with producing the beans, but when it comes to finances, men are the sole proprietors of coffee revenue.

Esp said the mixture of Rwanda’s culture and lack of education and organization in women has formed a negative mantra, creating a significant gender inequality within the nation. Subsequently conditioning women to believe that they are second to men in business enterprises.

This has made women unaware of the international coffee market size, Esp said. It is massive capitalism with billions of dollars allocated to people all over the world, and many Rwandan women pay little attention to what’s happening outside of Rwanda’s borders because they are accustomed to acting selfless.

Most of them are in rural areas, so if we don’t talk to them, they will have no idea what’s going on, Esp said. “All they do is farm and feed their children.”

Esp will be on a team that will work with 5,000 Rwandan women. The team will begin by interviewing women one-on-one to gauge their thought process on why many are negated.

Along with his studies, Esp works part-time at the MSU Union.
Along with his studies, Esp works part-time at the MSU Union. Photo: Ben Muir.

The goal of the interviews is to determine the barriers women face that are hindering them of being more of an integral part of coffee distribution management. The hypothesis is that women will be reluctant at first.

Esp’s concern is that women have become too immersed in mediocrity, and Rwanda’s culture is responsible for making women content with a low-class lifestyle.

“We want to ask ‘What is your aspiration?’” Esp said. “Do you want to just stay in the realm of feeding your family?”

Following the interviews, the training stage of the project will begin. The team will work alongside Rwandan women to encourage them to speak out, and conjunctively understand the culture that has developed this one-sided business mindset.

It should be noted that Esp is not going to Rwanda to act as a savior to its people. By using ethnography and objective observations, Esp and his team will draw conclusions that will further Michigan State’s research in the agricultural field.

“The goal at the end is to empower women in corporate farming,” Esp said. “To make them feel they are able to compete at the same level as men, and they are able to move from base-farming to international production of their own premier coffee.”

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