In the dark of night, farmers near Lake Kivu load their coffee into boats and set out from Democratic Republic of the Congo for the Rwandan shore. Some will not survive the wild waters, and their orphans and widows may never know what happened to them. Others will be caught by patrols and arrested or turned back. Those who reach Rwanda with their coffees intact will barter their beans for food and essentials or sell them on the black market for dismally low prices. In the east of DRC, growers cross over into Uganda to sell their coffee, again illegally and for a fraction of what it’s worth, but hoping to gain enough to sustain their families.
Once internationally renowned for its rich, flavorful coffee, long decades of infrastructure problems, taxation, violent genocide in neighboring Rwanda, and civil war within its own boundaries has brought about endemic insecurity, eroding coffee production in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But a brighter day is dawning for coffee farmers here.
Starting in 2014 with the help of the Common Fund for Commodities (CFC), key programs have begun to make a difference for smallholders and their families. Focusing on improving coffee production and quality, these projects aim to give access to international markets, bringing better coffee prices for quality beans, and helping to establish financial security for growers.
Micro washing stations are part of the solution for both quality and income, enabling farmers to process their own coffees rather than selling the raw fruit. These stations, owned by members of the local cooperative organizations, are moving growers back into the coffee value chain and creating a model in which people displaced by war can have a way to contribute to the economic stability of the country while gaining sustainability for their own lives and communities.
One cooperative member, Cecile Batumike, says, “With the income from the sale of our coffee, we are now able to send our children to school, we are able to feed our families and we are proud to know that our coffee is being sold in the international market.” Hope is arising, and one young coffee growers puts this optimism into words: “If you’re young and you have not yet planted any coffee, hurry up and plant at least 1000 new trees to ensure your education, plan for the dowry and your future livelihood.”