Coffee, a Storied Source of Wealth in Rural DRC, Grows Again
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Coffee, a Storied Source of Wealth in Rural DRC, Grows Again

Coffee farmers in Hutwe, a rural village in Democratic Republic of Congo, say their crops are boosting their community’s economy. The area was known for coffee production in the 1980s, but unrest in the area in the 1990s made it difficult to grow and sell coffee beans. Merveille Kavira Luneghe, GPJ DRC
Democratic Republic of CongoThe terrain around Hutwe, a village in DRC’s North Kivu province, has long been rich and fertile, but armed violence there in the 1990s and 2000s isolated the area. Now, the violence has abated, and a cooperative is helping farmers process and sell their high-quality coffee.

HUTWE, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO — The area around the village is lush and green. Abundant water from a nearby river and rich, fertile soil make the area verdant, sprouting with cassava trees that provide a staple crop for the people here.

Farmers manage those trees in the morning, and in the afternoon they go to their coffee trees. If the cassava trees feed the people, then the coffee trees fulfill many of their other needs – or at least any of them that require currency.

“Coffee is our area’s source of wealth,” says Ndungo Kamawite, a coffee farmer and father of eight children.

Kamawite owns a coffee field of 90 square meters (108 square yards). He harvests twice a year and sells his crop to a cooperative called SOPROCOPIV. SOPROCOPIV stands for Solidarité pour la Promotion et la Commercialisation des Produits Industriels et Vivriers, which in English roughly means solidarity for the promotion and marketing of industrial and food products.

The cooperative provides the farmers with free seeds, which come from a germination project, and the cooperative organizes training programs on how best to grow the coffee. A small pulping plant helps the farmers remove cherries from the coffee beans. SOPROCOPIV began working with farmers in Hutwe in 2014.

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Workers in Hutwe’s coffee sector say a cooperative known as SOPROCOPIV has made it possible for them to grow high-quality coffee and sell it at a good price. Hutwe is a village in DRC’s North Kivu province.

Merveille Kavira Luneghe, GPJ DRC

Before that, coffee farmers used handmade machines to dry the beans. They crushed them with mortars and pestles or with millstones, which compromised the quality. They carried the coffee on mountainous paths for nearly 30 kilometers (19 miles) to the north and south to get it to buyers on market days.

Now, SOPROCOPIV buys coffee from the farmers for between 600 Congolese francs and 1,920 Congolese francs (about 37 cents and about $1.20) per kilogram (2.2 pounds), depending on whether the coffee is in raw form or processed, says Justin Muhindo Kisono, an agronomist who leads the cooperative’s branch in Hutwe.

High-quality coffee is nothing new in this part of the world. DRC’s coffee was renowned in the late 1970s and early 1980s, says Ivan Godfroid, a regional director at Rikolto, a Belgium-based organization that supports coffee cooperatives in DRC and throughout the world.

Insecurity in the region in the 1990s and 2000s isolated many areas of North Kivu province, where Hutwe is located. Violence by armed groups that operate in the region continues to this day.

But now, the atmosphere in Hutwe is calm enough to begin to plan for a future in agriculture.

About 70 percent of the people in the village are involved in coffee production, Kisono says.

That includes people who are new to the village, such as Kavugho Kihunga, who came to Hutwe from the mountainous area to the east to escape violence there and found work picking coffee.

“This way, I manage to survive,” Kihunga says.

Kihunga is not the only person who says the local coffee industry is the difference between survival and despair.

Dorcas Kavira earns $30 each month sorting coffee. The work frees her from “the need to resort to begging,” she says.

Mwanzali Syalikowiwe, a local leader in the Kyaramba neighborhood in Hutwe, says the renewed coffee industry reminds him of a similar era when he was a boy.

“I remember when I was young in 1984, I produced eight bags of coffee, with 1 kilogram [2.2 pounds] fetching $1,” he says.

Now, Syalikowiwe says, he has 300 coffee trees.

Sylvestre Ndahayo, GPJ, translated the article from French.

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