THE LEADING COFFEE CO-OPERATIVE ON THE ISLAND OF IDJWI, LAKE KIVU
PARTNER SINCE: 2015
The export of coffee from the Lake Kivu region of Eastern Congo was decimated by the Congolese civil wars. In the early 1990s, the Kivu region exported 120,000 tonnes of coffee per year, generating 75% of the country’s agricultural export revenue. Since the end of the second civil war in 2003, the industry and its recovery have been stymied by political turmoil, chronic recession and loss of local expertise. Exports in 2016 were less than 10% of pre-war levels.
Idjwi is a large lake island on Lake Kivu. More than 300,000 people live on an island of just 310km. Distance from major markets, poor infrastructure and the absence of industry and communications have contributed to chronic poverty and low levels of health and well-being. 80% of people live on less than $1 per day, below the internationally recognised line for extreme poverty.
Yet, there is economic potential. Idjwi is rich in coffee, cassava and fish. The island’s coffee farmers, with no legitimate trading opportunities, were until recently smuggling their crop into Rwanda, risking death-by-drowning on Lake Kivu. If the farmers did land safely, there was a real risk of attack by thieves and no guarantee of securing a fair price for their coffee.
In 2013, the coffee growers on Idjwi formed the Kivu Cooperative of Coffee Planters and Traders (CPNCK) to sell their coffee directly to international buyers instead of smuggling it into Rwanda.
In 2014, we provided an initial loan to CPNCK. This enabled them to export their first container of coffee, something which only one other cooperative in Kivu had been able to manage since the end of the second civil war in 2003.
Since then, we have recycled our loan to CPNCK in order to support the export of more containers of coffee. We also connected CPNCK to Pamoja Net, Idjwi’s first community Wifi network co-designed and installed by Ensemble and the local community. Internet connection has enhanced their business operations streamlining communication with buyers and supporting cultivation of sales contracts.
Coffee is now the main agricultural crop on Idjwi and CPNCK the means by which real improvements in the lives of thousands of farmers, their families and the wider community can be secured.
Research conducted recently by Ensemble on Idjwi demonstrates the cooperative’s importance to Idjwi’s coffee growers.
By organising exports to international buyers they have negated the need for 98% of the growers who work with CPNCK to risk their lives selling to Rwandan buyers.
Instead, the growers now earn over twice as much for every kilo of coffee sold to CPNCK as they once did in Rwanda.
The farmers are using this money to send their children to school, pay for medical care and improve their homes, but there’s still a long way to go before the industry can truly sustain the region.
Four years on and the demand for coffee from Lake Kivu is there. International buyers are now flocking to Kivu in search of quality coffee. CPNCK’s cupping scores (a score from 1 to 100) are between 86 and 87 (over 85 is classed as speciality coffee) and there is no shortage of interest amongst big coffee buyers, including Starbucks and Blanchard’s.
CPNCK now needs further investment to expand their business. The co-operative can supply 25–30 containers per year, but this potential is stifled by a lack of finance that currently limits exports to just 4 containers per year.
Ensemble is working with the co-op to raise the funds, along with advising on bringing in new international buyers, with the long-term aim of doubling membership and increasing their coffee exports to 15 containers per year. This would have a huge impact on the quality of life of the farmers and benefit the Islanders.