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