In recent years, cooperatives in partnership with Rikolto in D.R. Congo have been making efforts to achieve access to lucrative certified coffee markets by complying with the standards of multiple certification organisations. What is the impact of certification on the incomes and lives of the coffee farmers and their households, in a conflict-affected area like Eastern DRC? This question is at the centre of the first research article of Wannes Slosse, PhD-student at the University of Ghent, in collaboration with Rikolto. We’ve asked him to share his findings so far.
The impact of Arabica coffee certification in Eastern DRC
The impact of Arabica coffee certification in Eastern DRC
Wannes, why did you pick the case of coffee in DR Congo to study the effects of certification for producers?
During the first phase of my research, in 2018 and 2019, two important developments have taken place. During this time the international Arabica price has fallen due to global overproduction; but at the same time two of the cooperatives received their certification as a well-deserved reward for their efforts. Since April 2018, Kawa Maber has been producing organic coffee, and since September 2018 and July 2018 CPNCK can call its coffee organic and SPP-certified (Símbolo de Pequeños Productores) respectively. It was the ideal case to analyse the effects of certification for the producers based on concrete data!
How were those data collected?
In January 2018 and October 2019, the Rikolto team in DR Congo consulted hundreds of cooperative members on several aspects of their agricultural activities, including the size of the field on which coffee is grown, production, productivity, sales channels and prices, income levels, etc. The data we’ve used are based on those surveys. Of course, we wanted to make sure that we could separate results and evolutions due to the certification, from evolutions who were just due to the general economic situation. For that reason, we did not only collect data from certified cooperatives, but also from non-certified cooperatives, to be able to make the comparison.
Was there a noticeable impact on the incomes of coffee farmers?
Well, yes. We saw that the average price received by certified producers for a tonne of coffee cherries increased from $245 to $290. This price is the average of the prices received from all sales channels: informal sales, formal sales and collective sales via the cooperative. This happened in a period of declining international coffee prices.
The comparison to the data of the non-certified cooperatives, showed that certification has had an impact of over $100 per tonne on this average price. This means that without certification, average prices would have fallen to around $190 ($290 - $100).
For members of certified cooperatives, the share of coffee in household income did not decrease during this period. It stabilised at 53%. According to data, certification had an impact on this variable of 16%. Basically, this means that without the benefits resulting from certification, coffee could not have remained such an important source of income for households.
You mention three sales channels: informal markets, formal markets and cooperatives. Are all three sales channels equally interesting?
The main channel through which certified farmers have realised this increased price is through a sharp increase in the share of coffee that farmers sell to cooperatives instead of informal markets! For certified cooperatives, we see an increase from 48% to 76%. In general, when selling through cooperatives, the price received is considerably higher compared to other sales channels, even if the cooperative is not certified. Moreover, access to certified markets happens only via cooperatives, and is proving to be very interesting in terms of price. In conclusion, the average price received for a tonne of coffee for farmers is increasing for two main reasons. Firstly, farmers sell more to the cooperatives, where the price is highest. And secondly, this price in cooperatives is further increased by access to certified markets.
Analysing the data, was there anything that surprised you?
Interestingly, there was no effect on total production per farmer, productivity or the percentage of their land they use for coffee production. This is a very positive observation as it means that households do not further intensify their production (and thus their dependence on coffee), but are able to make use of income benefits from the increased prices they receive for their coffee.
So, there is a clear link between certification and the farmers’ incomes. Does your research also say anything about the wider consequences for farmer livelihoods?
Yes: it translates into a decrease in the number of days in which the household reported to lack access to sufficient food. Or, in other words, food security improved. The price received for coffee has increased, and this extra income can be used by the household. And, at the same time, farmers are not using more of their land for coffee, which still gives them the opportunity to grow other products to sell or for their own consumption.
Thank you, Wannes, for sharing these interesting findings. And there is more good news, as continued efforts to reach the certificates are bearing fruit: today, four out of the five coffee cooperatives supported by Rikolto in DRC have received at least one certification that helps them to achieve access to interesting markets. The fifth cooperative, which is not yet certified, is Bblo Kawa. It is still a young cooperative and therefore could not commit itself to certification yet, because its production is still too low.
If you are interested in the full article, you can contact Wannes Slosse from the University of Ghent (Belgium) at wannes.slosse [at] ugent.be.