Revitalizing Congo’s Coffee Sector

The Democratic Republic of Congo has some of the most fertile land in the world, but for decades the small farming communities surrounding Lake Kivu in eastern Congo have endured cycles of violence and post-conflict poverty. Emerging from this post-conflict turmoil, these entrepreneurial farmers have always defied the odds and produced some of the world’s greatest Arabica coffee beans.

In 2011, Eastern Congo Initiative began a bold journey to revitalize the Congolese coffee sector. Why? Because Congo was once among Africa’s greatest coffee producers, but decades of instability wiped out almost everything. Imagine if suddenly Florida lost 90% of its citrus crops? Or Iowa lost 90% of its corn? This is a country that is on the rise to rebuild and once again become a prolific coffee producer – all they needed was for someone to believe in them and buy their coffee.

After performing a feasibility study to validate the potential of coffee as a change agent, we mobilized USAID, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and Catholic Relief Services to rally behind this mission, while also engaging private sector partners like Falcon Coffees, Westrock, and Starbucks to help bring Congolese coffee to the world. Together we developed a public-private partnership called Kawaha Bora Ya Kivu (KBYK) – which means ‘Kivu fine coffee’ in Swahili.

To date:

  • 5,200 coffee farmers have tripled their coffee revenue.
  • Four coffee processing centers have been built.
  • 100 tons of specialty grade coffee has been sold to Starbucks – that’s enough to make 11 million cups of coffee!

In March Starbucks debuted its very first single-origin Congo coffee in nearly 1,600 stores across the United States and Canada. This coffee was sourced exclusively from ECI-supported farmers and will be a part of Starbucks’ Reserve coffee program, which features only the highest-quality coffees from around the world.

Photo by Starbucks

Meet the KBYK Coffee Farmers

  • Sulemani Cirongozi is a smallholder coffee farmer who works with one of Eastern Congo Initiative’s partner coffee cooperatives in South Kivu. In 2014, Sulemani’s crops yielded 127 kilos of coffee cherries, which earned him an income of over $200. He invested the money in his house, buying 20 pieces of sheet metal to improve the quality of his roof. He also bought a solar panel that will allow him to receive electricity on a more regular basis. This year Sulemani’s crops have yielded 1,194 kilos of coffee cherries, earning him an income of nearly $400, which he will use to build a brand new house.
  • John Ntakweba heads a family of nine. He serves as pastor of his native village in a isolated area where he runs the local Coffee Growers Cooperative of Katana, one of three cooperatives partners in Kahawa Bora Ya Kivu project. His work has allowed him to buy two goats, and today the village has 11 goats. In 2017 they plan to buy a cassava mill to relieve the community, particularly women who are required to walk two hours to mill cassava chips at Kabamba center or mill them by hand.

Read more about our partnership with Starbucks here and the potential of coffee in Congo here.

Watch this video to find out more about ECI’s work in Congo’s coffee:

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