In some of the poorest parts of Rwanda, projects supported by oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood’s charity are transforming lives, reports Alison Campsie from Mulindi Tea Factory.
On a giant football field set deep in Rwanda’s mountainous Northern Province, more than 5,000 people are gathering to celebrate, some reportedly having walked through the night to get here.
As the morning mists give way to a hot, climbing sun, legions of smallholder tea farmers take a seat in a makeshift arena in the shadows of the Mulindi Tea Factory which crowns the vast, rolling expanse of this dark green growing territory. A VIP tent lines one side of the pitch.
Here, Sir Ian Wood, the Aberdeen-based oil tycoon, sits in the front row, surrounded by politicians, dignitaries and key figures from the Wood Foundation, the charity set up more than 10 years ago to distribute a share of his family’s £1.6bn fortune.
It has been quite a morning already for Sir Ian, 75, who, on arrival at the tea factory, receives, by all accounts, a rock star’s welcome from the staff and is passed babies to hug.
For a man who is too busy to retire and prefers a quiet bowl of soup in his hotel room to the spoils of the super rich, he enjoys the moment.
“It’s a good sign, to see all these happy faces. It’s always ever been about these people,” he later says.
Five years ago, the Wood Foundation Africa led the purchase of the Rwandan Government’s majority “It’s a good sign, to see all these happy faces. It’s always ever been about these people” shareholding in the tea factory at Mulindi, plus another in Shagasha in the south.
In time, once certain standards at the business are being met, the 60 per cent share in the factory will be handed over to the smallholders for free, giving them total control of the plant.
Parallel to this has been the foundation’s support of more than 12,000 smallholders over both sites who supply the green leaf for processing.
Long term loans have been given to farmers for seeds and fertilisers with Farmer Field Schools (FFS) set up to teach techniques in husbandry, hygiene, business and cultivation.
Prosperity, as a result, has improved. Tea farming, often a tough gig given the bush’s long maturity period and the steep growing plots, has become more lucrative with incomes for smallholders increasing two to three times over the past four years.
Sir Ian was keen for the celebration of achievements at Mulindi. He describes an earlier event at Shagasha as a complete “eureka experience” for the businessman. These are not words you would usually expect from Sir Ian, for whom optimism does not come easy.
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