Hoping to solve the country’s immense financial problems, one nonprofit organization is claiming it can help reboot Rwanda’s economy with its coffee-bike.

Project Rwanda members claim the coffee-bike – a modified bicycle capable of carrying up to 200 kilograms of coffee – can help the African country improve its economy by stimulating the export of one of its chief agricultural commodities. The nonprofit organization was founded in 2005 and focuses on improving economic development in Rwanda.

Project Rwanda members visited the campus last night to discuss their program during an event sponsored by the UCSB Chapter of Engineers Without Borders – a student-run organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in disadvantaged communities. The event was held in the Engineering Science Building at 5:30 p.m.

Project spokesman Jacob Seigel-Boettner said the bicycle would serve as an important tool in Rwanda.

“To us, the bicycle is just a toy,” Seigel-Boettner said. “However, a bicycle can make such an impact in developing countries, especially in Rwanda.”

Seigel-Boettner, a University of California, Berkeley undergraduate student, said the coffee cycle is beneficial because it provides a viable economic resource for Rwanda and lessens the nation’s dependence on foreign donations.

“Aid to East Africa can be a double-edged sword, in that it may provide items that locals can already make,” Seigel-Boettner said. “There is such a thing as bad aid, [however] Project Rwanda really gives them hope, allowing the Rwandans to carry their coffee as well as their families to church and school.”

Project Rwanda, which has already sold 1,800 coffee-bikes to cooperative coffee farms in Rwanda, was founded by avid cyclist Tom Ritchey in 2005. A micro loan program developed in partnership with World Visions, a Christian relief and development organization, allows coffee farmers who could not normally afford to purchase the bicycles to invest in the product.

According to the Project Rwanda Web site, the African nation has nearly 500,000 small-holder coffee producers in possession of an average of 200 coffee trees each. Each small plantation is managed cooperatively and is the principal generator of cash for rural Rwanda. Depending on annual production volumes and the New York Board of Trade commodity price for coffee, the Rwanda coffee sector has generated between $15 million and $35 million in annual foreign exchange earnings.

In addition to stimulating the economy, Seigel-Boettner said the bikes directly improve standards of living.

“I think that the coffee-bike will have both economic and reconciliatory impacts on the country of Rwanda,” Seigel-Boettner said. “If you build a school or hospital, that is good, but we are providing a tool to make their own lives better.”

More information regarding the coffee-bike program is available via the Project Rwanda Web site, at www.projectrwanda.org.