Sustainable cocoa and coffee

Speciality coffee from Kivu and Ituri, DRC

March 8, 2023

Arabica coffee production in DR Congo is facing serious difficulties, caused by climate change and low prices on the world market. Farmers depend on intermediaries who sell their coffee, who offer no services in return and credits at extremely poor rates. As a result, coffee farmers are struggling to survive. Besides, the over-taxation compared to neighbouring countries has led to a drop in export via official channels to only 1/10 of the capacity. Rikolto’s programme supports coffee producers to establish quality coffee processing cooperatives and connects them with gourmet coffee buyers.

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Kivu and Ituri in DR Congo

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7,500 coffee farmers in 5 cooperatives, 33% are women

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Some farmers only manage to produce 250kg per hectare, when the yield could reach 2000kg. Low productivity puts the survival of the coffee production at risk

  • Coffee quality is low; both pre-harvest and post-harvest practices fail to improve the quality of the coffee plants.
  • No central processing unit for the coffee beans, leading to low quality coffee beans. Each farmer processes the coffee on their own farm (farm-washed coffee) which produces a coffee supply of varying quality.
  • The only remaining coffee factory in South-Kivu works at low capacity due to the irregular supply of coffee beans. Farmers are not encouraged to sell regularly because they do not have sale agreements for export.

Our strategies

  • Rikolto wants to improve productivity by planting new coffee trees. The most suitable coffee varieties are grown in tree nurseries and distributed to the farmers.
  • We introduce Good Agricultural Practices that aim to reduce the negative effects on the environment (soil, water, pesticides, etc.). For fertilization, local compost based on coffee pulp and other ingredients is used. We set up Farmer Field Schools to transfer knowledge about increasing production from farmer to farmer.
  • We build Washing stations in both North-Kivu, South-Kivu and Ituri which are each managed by 100 farmers. In this way, coffee can be washed centrally and variations in coffee quality can be avoided. Apart from the "fully washed" coffee, we experiment with "natural coffee" and "honey bean"
  • We increase the business capacities of four new cooperatives Kawa Kabuya, CPNCK (Kawa Kenja), Kawa Maber en Kawa Kanzururu so that they become reliable business partners for international buyers
  • We set up a small lab to be able to test and evaluate the quality of the coffee locally (coffee cupping), instead of having it sent to Europe. This way, the cooperatives will be able to better respond to the quality demands of the buyers.
  • We set up new systems to give the cooperatives access to credit: local banks are involved, social lenders, warranty funds, down payments / prefinancing by buyers, etc.
  • We promote local coffee consumption.

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Achieved results

Five coffee cooperatives are formed and legally registered: Kawa Maber and Bblo Kawa (Ituri), Kawa Kanzururu (Rwenzori), Kawa Kabuya (Beni-Lubero), SCPNCK (Idjwi island). We also support farmer groups in the region of Rutshuru to organise into a cooperative.

Every farmer that became a member of one of the coffee cooperatives, contributed $50 in cash or in kind for building materials and labour for constructing a micro-washing station, while the programme has helped by providing equipment (pulper, mesh, shading net, polythene sheeting for shed roof, hygrometer, etc.)

There are over 123 micro washing stations operational. There are 5 staff per operational washing station (responsible for post-harvest treatment and quality control), creating in total 520 new jobs as of April 2020. 27 staff are working for the cooperatives.

Farmers now have easy access to new coffee plants, leading to the renewal of the plantations. The productivity has increased: the volume of 5 cooperatives increases every season.

A processing factory installed on Idjwi island.

The quality of the coffee has significantly improved, and the coffee cooperatives won a lot of awards. Consequently, the income of farmer families has doubled to tripled the 4 years of the project. Many farmers indicate that they can now easily pay for the school fees of their children. There are less exclusions of poor kids from schools.

Additionally, the cooperatives have been making efforts to achieve access to more lucrative certified coffee markets by complying with the standards of multiple certification organisations. In collaboration with the University of Ghent in Belgium, Rikolto has studied the effects this has had on farmers, of which you can find the main conclusions in this interview.

The workload of women has diminished a lot: they no more need to do home processing. Quite some men have ceded a significant part of their coffee plantation to their wives, leading to more economic independency for women.

All 4 government services controlled by the Ministry of Finance had to decrease payments for services from several % down to 0.25% of FOB value. Only one of them (DGDA) has applied the new tax policy.

The cooperatives have better access to credit: e.g. Colruyt Group signed a three year contract to prefinance Kawa Kabuya

What are specific priorities for the future?

  • Install a coffee lab in the offices of Kawa Kabuya, and train people in coffee cupping
  • Work towards organic and Fair Trade certification of the coffee cooperatives
  • Increase quality control and strengthen the business capacities

Long-term results

Structural changes in the national politics regarding coffee and the restructuring of the coffee chain at national level through the National Confederation of Agricultural Producers of Congo (CONAPAC)

Who do we work with?

Efico Foundation


Leopold Mumbere

Programme coordinator coffee in DR Congo

Stories from the ground

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