Kivu Specialty Coffee Project
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was once called a “paradise of coffee” and is host to some of the most fertile land in the world. But years of conflict have cost the nation its access to the world market and left farmers with no income or infrastructure to maintain a business. On March 22, 2016, Starbucks started selling specialty coffee from the South Kivu province of DRC across 1,500 stores in USA, Canada and online.

The Kivu Speciality Coffee Project

This coffee is also gaining popularity amongst other premium labels such as Counter Culture Coffee, Square Mile Coffee and Blue Bottle Coffee, to name a few. This is possible because of the Kivu Specialty Coffee Project, which is not only reviving their previously declining industry, but is also a testament to how international funding can alleviate poverty.

The Kivu Specialty Coffee Project is a joint four-year funding venture of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation; the program supports over 4,000 farmers with $5 million. Known to the locals as Kahawa Bora Ya Kivu, the project is implemented on site by the Catholic Relief Services (CRS), World Coffee Research and the Eastern Congo Initiative.

Coffee Export Stability

Farmers have always known how to produce coffee, but have faced challenges in exportation. The biggest hurdle was sustaining production in an environment where rebel groups often attacked farmers working outdoors or at markets.

This led to low productivity, as farmers only produced 250 kg per hectare when they could be producing 2000 kg per hectare, and an irregular supply of beans. Moreover, lack of access to technology and processing units led to low-quality beans that didn’t receive a reasonable price in the world market.

Through the Kivu Specialty Coffee Project, survivors not only receive healthcare support, but they also learn new techniques to produce coffee. Farmer field schools are set up to increase access to technical education and assuage the transfer of knowledge from farmer to farmer.

Becoming More Eco-Friendly

People are also educated on eco-friendly approaches to harvesting. Compost from coffee pulp and other ingredients is recycled as fertilizers. This detail ensures that they produce not just more, but higher quality coffee whose production can be sustained for a long time.

The World Coffee Research (WCR) contributes to this goal through the introduction of technology, improvement of soil fertility and intercropping practices. The organization has also funded three new washing stations for coffee bean preparation and a coffee-tasting laboratory in the South Kivu region so that the government can monitor the quality of coffee before its sale.

Farmers learn from WCR personnel how the variety of coffee beans can be increased and are also taught marketing strategies to ensure the stability of DRC coffee in the global coffee market. This has fostered stronger buyer-seller relationships for DRC while also encouraging innovation.

Providing Farmers Credit

Farmers, regardless of male or female, now have a higher access to credit. The project launched a pre-harvest financing agreement with Westrock Coffee to ensure that farmers are directly paid for their cherries during the time of harvest.

This system ensures that women and men are both paid fairly according to their yield, not their gender. This works to rid Congolese of the innate idea that coffee is a man’s crop since 29 percent of the Kivu Specialty Coffee Project’s cooperative members are women and receive just as much income as the men do.

As more of DRC’s coffee is sold in North America, farmers now receive triple the amount of 2014. With more organized and informed production, several citizens are benefitting and winning the battle against poverty.

Starbucks for Positive Change

The Starbucks Foundation is also increasing measures to support the education of young women studying agriculture by investing in local organizations. This action is geared in the hopes of creating more jobs for affected young adults and former child soldiers, and of promoting peace and conflict resolution in the region.

Several residents of South Kivu experience improved standards of living thanks to the Kivu Specialty Coffee Project, and this positive impact wouldn’t be possible without international funding. Such success is yet another success story that drives home the message that eradicating poverty and funding those measures benefits everyone.

– Sanjana Subramanian
Photo: Flickr

types of advocacy work
Advocacy can be done and acknowledged in many different forms. In simple terms, advocacy is the public support for particular causes and policies. The following list delineates eight types of advocacy work to help people worldwide, and some you can help with right from the comfort of your home. To support these programs and groups to continue their advocacy work, you can share their websites on social media, as well as donate and volunteer to their cause.

Eight Types of Advocacy Work

  1. Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI)
    Founded by Ben Affleck in 2010 the ECI works within the bounds of advocacy and public and private partnerships to help the people of the Eastern Congo. Its goals are to raise public awareness, promote policy change through the U.S. government, and help communities locally. Some of the types of advocacy work that ECI does daily are helping improve maternal and newborn health care, aiding the DRC security sector and creating more economic opportunities in the Eastern Congo.
  2. International Child Resource Institute (ICRI)
    ICRI is working to help improve the lives of children and families globally through education, empowerment, health care, children’s rights and community development. ECRI offers travel goals anyone can take so you can travel with a purpose. You can go to places such as The Great Wall of China, the Kakadu National Park in Australia and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and help fundraise for IRCI along the way; everything raised through the trips goes directly to the organization’s programs.
  3. ONE
    ONE is an advocacy group that fights and alleviates extreme poverty and preventable disease through public awareness. Due to ONE’s specific type of advocacy work, the group has been able to help over 110 million people; ONE takes on issues in disease, agriculture, energy, maternal and child health, water and education.
  4. Aids Healthcare Foundation (AHF)
    AHF a nonprofit organization that helps people in over 39 countries fight against HIV/AIDS. Some of the types of advocacy work that AHF does include testing one billion people every year for HIV/AIDS, finding new cutting-edge medicine and discovering new ways to educate, treat and prevent further spread of the disease.
  5. Global Citizen
    Global Citizen is a movement that started in 2012 that aims to help fix the world’s most significant every-day challenges. Due to their types of advocacy work, Global Citizen has gotten over $30 billion in financial aid to help over one billion people worldwide; in addition, the organization gained 130 commitments and policy announcements from world leaders. Their ultimate goal is to end extreme poverty by 2030.
  6. Survival International
    Survival International works towards the global movement for tribal people’s rights. The goal is to help defend tribal people’s lives, protect their lands and allow them the autonomy to determine the course of their own futures.
  7. UNICEF: For every child
    UNICEF works in over 190 countries to help save children’s lives and defend their rights. The types of advocacy work UNICEF focuses on are education, child survival, child protection, equality for women and girls and innovation.
  8. Intern for The Borgen Project
    The Borgen Project offers five different types of internships which can be done right from home. The internships available are Public Relations/Marketing, HR, Writing, Journalism and Political Affairs. All of these internships can further help show the types of advocacy work both The Borgen Project and one intern can do.

With just these eight options, everyone has the opportunity to get and stay involved. Increased awareness and action can change the world, it’s just a matter of picking the cause you want to fight for.

– Amber Duffus

Photo: Flickr

Starbucks' Partnership with ECIThe Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) was founded in 2010 by Ben Affleck. The goal of the ECI is to work in advocacy and grant-making at the local community level and to help the people who live in the eastern Congo. The ECI works incredibly hard to boost the coffee and cocoa industry as well as establish a successful and sustainable community there. Starbucks’ partnership with ECI is one among many in both the private and public sectors to create new opportunities in the Congo.

Background of the Democratic Republic of Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has a population of 75 million people and has some of the most fertile lands in the world. Most of the farming communities are found around Lake Kivu, in the eastern part of the country. Despite the conflict that has been ongoing in the DRC, the Lake Kivu area farmers have prevailed to provide some of the world’s best coffee and cocoa.

The DRC continues to work towards peace, with the completed Amani program for disarmament and the current Stabilization Program for Eastern DRC focusing on education, health and reintegrating soldiers into their communities.

The Success of Starbucks’ Partnership with ECI

Starbucks’ partnership with ECI began at the end of 2014. The goal of this partnership is to help sustainable agriculture and production of coffee grow in the Congo, mainly in the DRC. There are further plans to work with an additional 10,000 farmers and continue to build up the coffee industry in the Congo.

In 2014, when Starbucks’ partnership with ECI first began, the primary suppliers of coffee were in the Lake Kivu area. Over 4,500 farmers sold their coffee to Starbucks and were able to triple their income. With this increased income, the farmers were better able to send their children to school and gain access to healthcare.

By 2015, more than 4,000 farmers were able to export their coffee to Starbucks, who then sold the farmers’ coffee for a limited time at certain locations. Starbucks plans to purchase more Congolese coffee every year to support the ECI, the more than 10,000 farmers and their communities.

The Coffees

In 2016, Starbucks’ partnership with ECI continued, with even more specialty coffee becoming available at 1,500 locations across the United States and Canada, as well as online. This launch took place on March 22 and was a single-origin specialty coffee from South Kivu. The limited release from Lake Kivu included coffee from 4,500 farmers. The successful release was the result of a four-year project funded by the Howard G. Buffet Foundation and USAID.

Since 2015, there have been annual limited-edition coffees from Lake Kivu that have had bold and flavorful blends, available as part of the Starbucks Reserve coffee selection. All of this has been made possible because of Starbucks’ partnership with ECI.

– Amber Duffus

Photo: Flickr

Efficacy of AdvocacyDescribed by a coffee specialist as “light and lively with a nice orange citrus acidity that comes in with a cocoa nuance in the mouthfeel and a little bit of a sweet spice note, ” last year’s Starbucks Reserve® Eastern Congo Lake Kivu coffee represents the remarkable – and delectable – success that the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) has achieved through advocacy efforts for coffee farmers in the Eastern Congo.

Founded in 2010 by Ben Affleck, the ECI works with and for the Congolese people towards rebuilding their lives and livelihoods in the aftermath of civil war, through advocacy and grant-making. ECI’s successes and partnerships illustrate the incredible efficacy of advocacy in the Congo. The initiative’s efforts to “raise public awareness about the tremendous need and opportunity in the region through highly targeted media and advocacy activities” caught the eye of the coffee industry giant Starbucks, which developed a partnership with ECI and began purchasing coffee from growers in the Eastern Congo in 2014.

Prior to the Rwandan Genocide and the subsequent Congolese Civil war, the Lake Kivu region in the Congo was a hotspot for the production of some of the highest quality coffees in the world. Decades of violence, however, decimated the industry. Unable to reach the international market upon which they had once thrived, it is estimated that about one 1,000 Congolese coffee farmers drowned per year while attempting to smuggle their crop across the rough waters of Lake Kivu and into Rwanda during the height of the violence.

The coffee purchased from the Congo by Starbucks has helped transform lives for more than 4,500 smallholder farmers and their families along Lake Kivu. These farmers’ incomes have more than tripled, which has enabled them to send their children to school and access healthcare.

Starbucks’ partnership with ECI has focused on helping Congolese coffee farmers develop sustainable agricultural production and restore the Congo as a key source of high-quality coffee, which is the key to the farmers’ improved profits. The mountainous topography and moist climate of the Lake Kivu region are ideal for growing high-quality coffee. The crop is almost entirely comprised of well-established local variants of the great heirloom Bourbon variety of Coffea arabica, which is known for its complex and engaging aromatics and flavor.

Starbucks provides Congolese farmers with the knowledge and resources to capitalize on these inherently excellent coffee-growing conditions. The endeavor has proven extremely successful, as is evidenced by Starbucks’ use of the crop as a Reserve roast and the wider coffee community’s increased interest in coffees originating from the Congo.

Starbucks has committed to continuing to purchase Congolese coffee, with the goal of working with the ECI to expand its reach to more than 10,000 coffee farmers and their communities in the coming few years. To the Congolese coffee farmers whose lives that this partnership has transformed, that had to be news with lively and sweet notes indeed.

Savannah Bequeaith

Photo: Flickr

eastern congo initiative The Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) has been fighting poverty in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) since 2010. Founded by Ben Affleck, ECI combines advocacy and research with financial and logistical support for Congolese organizations striving to create sustainable change.

Conflict in the region has resulted in the displacement of a nearly 3 million and a death toll of around 5.4 million. In addition, the prolonged fight for power between competing militias has perpetuated a cycle of violence, poverty and disease for more than 20 years.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, despite a promising growth rate of nine percent between 2014 and 2015, political and social instability has led to Congolese citizens surviving on “less than $200 a year—barely half of what they did in 1970.”

In order to help improve living conditions, ECI has invested in the Eastern Congo’s potential for redevelopment, gaining the attention of influential voices within eastern Congo and around the world. The organization uses “targeted methods to communicate directly to select individuals who can help shape policies and action in the government, academic and private sectors”.

Field research and direct polling conducted by ECI addresses the lack of verifiable information that previously discouraged many lawmakers and members of the private sector in the U.S. and Europe from becoming Congo advocates.

The United States, in particular, has stepped up its efforts to provide assistance in the DRC, actively working with the African and European Unions to broker regional peace agreements and becoming the largest financial contributor to the U.N. Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).

In 2011, in partnership with USAID, the Eastern Congo Initiative provided an in-depth analysis of community-based organizations throughout the DRC. This report allowed policy makers and investors to gain insight into the potential of sustainable growth in the DRC, opening the possibilities of increased funding and investment.

In addition, ECI has given grants to 23 Congolese organizations to support their efforts in improving economic development, education, access to justice and family health.

One organization, Children’s Voice, serves the needs of “young people living in extreme poverty, including orphans, former child soldiers and sex slaves”.

By providing primary schooling, vocational training and mental health assistance to approximately 600 children per year in the cities of Goma and Magunga, Children’s Voice is taking a critical step to break the cycle of poverty and hopelessness at an early stage.

Another organization, Dynamique de Femmes Juriste (DFJ) provides legal services to women who have faced rights abuses, from sexual violence to inheritance violations. In addition to advocating for laws that strengthen women’s participation in politics, DFJ trains paralegals in rural areas to process complaints in their respective communities.

The group also encourages female community leaders to run for office in local elections to encourage better female representation in the government.

According to the Eastern Congo Initiative’s website, in 2014, “DFJ prosecuted more than 200 cases in court, with a 37 percent success rate.” For a country whose justice system is incredibly weak, this is nothing short of a promising and remarkable achievement.

Taylor Resteghini

Photo: Flickr

Ben Affleck
Ben Affleck, co-star of the upcoming film Superman vs. Batman, spent time in Washington, D.C. on February 26 discussing the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Using his celebrity and networking super powers,  Affleck has previously launched the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) in 2010 and has since helped raise awareness and generate public action against violence in the DRC.

While in D.C. Affleck testified in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Committee Chairman  Sen. Robert Menéndez (D-N.J.). He began his testimony by acknowledging the significant progress made in the last three months. He also thanked Congress, U.S. President Obama and the State Department for their roles in achieving the surrender of M23, the Congolese Revolutionary Army, which has been violently rebelling against the DRC government.

Affleck emphasized that though progress has been made, it is important to stay on track, and that deviating could risk losing the fruit of their hard diplomatic labor.  The ECI created five key points for Congress to ensure sustainable peace in the country:

  1. Urge U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to ensure DRC special envoy Russell Feingold has the support needed to successfully achieve his mission
  2. Call on U.S. Embassador to the U.N. Samantha Power to support extending the intervention brigade past its March 31 expiration
  3. Foreign Relations committee hold an oversight hearing to consider a sunset to MONUSCO that compels the DRC to follow through and fully reform its security sector
  4. Have Obama directly engage with DRC President Joseph Kabila to encourage him to make good on his critical commitment to long-overdue security sector reforms by establishing a clearly defined road map
  5. Have the U.S. play a pivotal role and robustly participate in multilateral efforts to ensure that the Congolese holds free, fair and timely local and national elections that respect the Congolese constitution including strict observance of term limits
  6. Call upon USAID to scale up its economic development initiatives in Eastern Congo

Ultimately, the ECI believes the DRC can be revived through enhanced security on one side and injecting small amount of development aid throughout pockets of the community. This will allow the Congolese people to stand on their own and create a market economy, eventually joining the global market.

– Sunny Bhatt

Sources: YouTube, Eastern Congo Initiative

In spite of its massive natural resource endowments, the Democratic Republic of the Congo remains one of the poorest countries on earth, with a GDP per capita of just $194. This is in no small part due to a conflict that has been raging – at various levels of intensity – since the early 1990s. As a result, more than 5.4 million Congolese have died and over 2 million have been displaced. Widespread sexual violence and the use of child soldiers have deeply scarred communities and left them with little to no economic development. The ongoing instability and poverty in the eastern part of the country poses a threat not only to Congo’s development and stability, but also to that of its Central African neighbors.

Intercommunal hatred based on years of conflict, competition among armed groups over natural resources, and regional power struggles have fueled the instability in the region. The largest armed groups include the Rwandan Hutu militia FDLR, the M23 militia backed by Rwanda and Uganda, collections of “Mai Mai” militias, and the Congolese Army. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has also been known to operate in eastern Congo.

In addition, conflict minerals, notably gold, tin, tungsten, and tantalum, utilized in most consumer electronic products, are mined in eastern Congo. Due to worldwide demand for such products, the minerals offer massive spoils to any armed group able to control the mines. This has led to greater violence as groups fight one another over access to minerals.

The weak institutions and lack of government in the region have only encouraged conflict by allowing war criminals to act with impunity. And without a strict hierarchy or accountability measures, the Congolese military effectively acts as a large gang. Corrupt police forces and judiciaries also partake in violence or turn a blind eye to war crimes and human rights abuses.

Human and economic development in eastern Congo has been entirely derailed by the conflict. Sexual violence has both physically and psychologically harmed women and left them unable to care for themselves or their families. Similarly, the use of child soldiers has devastated communities by raising death tolls and making parents unable to protect their children from harm. A lack of trust between neighboring villages and communities has also eroded development and entrenched poverty by promoting isolation and discouraging trade.

In response to the ongoing crisis, the UN has provided the largest and most expensive peacekeeping operation in the world, MONUSCO, with 20,000 personnel and an annual budget of $1.4 billion. Celebrities such as Ben Affleck have called attention to the dire situation, and USAID has begun a Community Recovery and Livelihoods Project to address victims of sexual violence and the conflict minerals industry.

– David E Wilson

Sources: Enough Project, Eastern Congo Initiative, International Crisis Group 
Photo: World Vision Australia