Alfenas, Minas Gerais, Brazil – September. 19.2011: Coffee flowers ar plantation in Alfenas, the southern part of Minas Gerais state, the center of coffee production in Brazil.

Gilbert Gitali: The Lifter

Roots Origin

Gilbert Gitali is one of those magnetic people that draws you in immediately. He is quick with a smile and always looking to join you in a laugh. He gives everyone he is around the benefit of the doubt. 

Mr. Gitali has been in the coffee business since 2006, when he started representing Sustainable Harvest in East Africa. It was serendipitous because he had just decided he was going to move back to Rwanda after a long period in Canada, and he didn’t know what he was going to do when he got there. Gilbert had studied International Development and Social Cultural Anthropology at the University of Toronto, so he could have gone in a variety of directions. Instead, he was introduced to David Griswold through his sister, and SH was looking for someone in that region. Through SH, Mr. Gitali would learn all aspects of the coffee industry and develop the relationships that would serve him well throughout his career. 

Gilbert would go on to build his resume working with a variety of export companies in Rwanda, including RWASHOSSCO and KZ Noir LTD. However, being the self—proclaimed “serial entrepreneur” that he is, Gilbert had to start his own companies. First, with a coffee shop, Neo Coffee, which is a bit of a novelty in Kigali as there are not many. Gilbert was driven by his message, “I wanted to introduce high-quality coffee to people here. I thought it was interesting that we were growing and producing some of the greatest coffees in the world, and you couldn’t have one to drink in Kigali.” I thought it would be fantastic to share this gem that we had with the end consumer. Normally it is being consumed miles and miles away from us. It is much different to get to enjoy it with people every day. 

Being born in Africa and then moving to Canada when he was thirteen years old, Gilbert has always felt that Rwanda was his true home, and that is where he wanted to live and make an impact. This is part of the passion that drives him to continue his work, and it underlies all his business endeavors. “The more I can put Rwanda on the map in the coffee world, help increase prices of Rwandan coffee and increase what farmers make and have a better livelihood, that would be a fantastic impact,” Gilbert explains. 

He continues, “Being part of the transformation of what can be done with Rwandan coffee. That’s what is important. Ensuring that coffee is a business that is an impactful business and that it must transform people’s lives. Those that are around me, mainly the farmers that I work with, the staff, the team.” 

Gilbert goes on to make the point that from the farm to the cafe, there are many hands involved in making the coffee. For the most part, on the consumer side, they are enjoying their experience with the coffee while paradoxically, the farmers growing the coffee are not enjoying their experience. They are not living in the best conditions and not earning enough for the work they are performing. Gilbert passionately states, “I want to be part of creating that fun for someone enjoying the coffee at home and that the growers are also enjoying their part of the coffee chain.”

by Jake Leonti

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