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

Thursday, April 25, 2013

(OPIC)  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:

“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.