By Anne VanderMey
June 13, 2013

In recent years Rwanda — once known in the West mostly for its 1994 genocide — has been enjoying peace and seeing signs of economic growth. One advantage: Its altitude, drenching tropical rains, and bountiful sun give the central African country perfect conditions for growing high-quality coffee beans. U.S. distributors have taken notice. Grace Hightower De Niro, 58, a philanthropist and the wife of Robert De Niro, launched Grace Hightower & Coffees of Rwanda in January. It’s a for-profit operation that aims to boost growers’ incomes by paying above “fair trade” prices to buy beans and then sell them to U.S. stores such as some Whole Foods (WFM) outlets. Hightower De Niro says the idea came when she heard Rwanda’s president speak: “He said he wanted ‘trade, not aid.’ I thought that was really inspiring.”

Grace Hightower De Niro picking coffee berries at a coffee plantation in Rwanda

Hightower De Niro speaks to a coffee farmer at the Sofu washing station.

Coffee beans drying in the sun at the Cyarumb washing station in Rwanda

Hightower De Niro and a quality control manager tasting, or “cupping,” coffee

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