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Congo Coffee in War and Peace

"Now in our sixth year, Saveur du Kivu is a celebration of the reemergence of coffee in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). As the specialty coffee cupping competition and annual meeting for representatives throughout the international supply chain, this event supports the construction of DRC’s specialty coffee industry, producing some of the world's finest Arabica coffee. The development of the specialty coffee industry in DRC is playing a crucial role in increasing economic stability and peace in the fertile highlands of eastern Congo." 
- website for the Saveur du Kivu's coffee festival


It's a bold goal, growing coffee to bring peace. But coffee geeks at the festival still seek the new flavors from the nation harassed by endless troubles. They come because the DRC is believed to be one of Africa’s most promising producers of specialty coffee.


A few decades ago, coffee was Congo’s second biggest export. It brought in a much needed $164 million [estimated] to the nation, as nationalized coffee production from the 1970s to the 1990s produced 120,000 metric tons per year.

Then, because of [and during] the many bloody years of civil war, coffee production declined. The reported output in 2010 was less than a tenth of the harvest twenty years earlier. Coffee farming suffered. There were no decent roads, too many broken down vehicles, and the water was polluted. With a non-existent power-grid, it’s a miracle that any coffee production survived. The large-scale operations had disappeared and behind left small-batch farms of less than a hundred trees. These tiny farms kept it going.

With little to no export market during the Congolese wars, farmers were forced to sell their beans in raw state, to be processed in neighboring countries. Due to DRC export taxes, farmers had to smuggle their beans to Uganda and Rwanda to process without the Congo name, keeping this tiny market alive, even if hardly visible and far less profitable.

On the Lake Kivu islands, finding a buyer for the raw cherries meant a two-day trip, in a fragile wooden canoe, to Rwanda. The lucky farmers, when they arrived, expected to find prices below market value for their coffee. The less fortunate farmers were attacked and robbed, giving the Congolese locals the number of 2,000 [estimated] coffee growers that have drowned over the years, during this trip.

Farmers of the DRC fought through instability, and problematic infrastructure, to keep their livelihoods afloat. A war of its own that brought about the fruits of a rebounding coffee market, eventually winning select battles against a desolate market.

This war convinced the DRC to come up with a strategy to help coffee producers grow in potential and improve farmers’ quality of life. Nonprofits and other agencies started taking steps to bring life to [revitalize] the DRC’s coffee industry.

Now, coffee cooperatives are set up to reduce the life and death risk for coffee producers of the Congo. By setting market prices and making connections with reputable international distributors and partners, cooperatives offer a more reliable, and safer trade model than each producer acting alone.

A platform of Congolese specialty coffee producers [named Kawa Kivu] united in several farmer-led cooperatives in the provinces of North and South Kivu, one of which is the Kivu Cooperative of Coffee Traders and Planters [CPNCK]. CPNCK was established in 2011 with an aim to “prevent suffering… [and] save human lives,” and now carries over 2,100 members.

CPNCK coffee is sold and pays for cooperative running costs. The balance is distributed back to the growers, who receive a basic payment and share of profits..

And this, along with The Eastern Congo Initiative is only a fraction of the works built up to develop sustainable agricultural production and help restore Congo as a key source of prime quality coffee. And peace.

Try Nine Flags coffee from the Congo by clicking here.