DRC: Farmers say growing high-end coffee doesn’t pay (Global Press Journal)

| June 18, 2018

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Although coffee is the most widely grown crop in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Justine Mwaka cut down her coffee plants to grow bananas. She can’t support her family selling coffee beans anymore.

Mrs. Mwaka says, “We realized that those who grow bananas are more stable than we coffee growers.”

Before transitioning into banana farming, she sold her coffee beans to the international co-operative SOPACDI on credit. She says she is still waiting to be paid.

SOPACDI and the co-operative MUUNGANO are largely responsible for reviving DRC’s coffee trade. The two co-operatives have received widespread global praise, and SOPACDI proudly markets its fair trade coffee in high-end shops around the world. SOPACDI is a member of The Fair Trade Federation and is USDA Organic Certified. The Fair Trade Federation defines fair trade as “an approach to business and to development based on dialogue, transparency, and respect that seeks to create greater equity in the international trading system.”

But Mrs. Mwaka and other farmers say this positive recognition is misguided.

The co-operatives buy coffee beans from farmers and export them to western countries. Coffee farmers are paid 400 Congolese francs (about US$0.25) for a kilogram of beans. Data from the International Coffee Organization show that Congolese coffee farmers earn less for their beans than farmers in countries such as Rwanda and Cuba, and far below the global average. Mrs. Mwaka and other farmers say co-operatives like SOPACDI don’t share their large profits with coffee growers.

Farmers say the co-operatives sell a kilogram of beans for between US$1 and US$4 per kilogram on the export market. Exporters in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, sell a kilogram of beans to retailers such as Starbucks at even higher prices—US$6.20.

Innocent Lunyere is a 42-year-old coffee grower in DRC’s South Kivu province. He says the co-operatives “get rich off our backs.”

According to official figures, DRC exports less than a tenth of the coffee it exported 20 years ago. Despite the plummeting numbers, some experts believe coffee production in DRC has remained constant. Some Congolese farmers smuggle their beans into neighbouring countries like Rwanda and Uganda. The beans are labeled as Rwandan coffee and sold at higher prices.

Gilbert Makelele is an official with a co-operative of coffee growers and dealers. He explains, “While our farming practices have remained the same for years, we continue to grow coffee under extremely challenging conditions.”

Mr. Makelele says there are no agricultural banks to provide farmers with capital for better equipment and land, or to hire extra workers. In addition, transporting coffee to the marketplace presents challenges due to armed militias, roadblocks, and washed-out roads during the rainy season.

Jules Mpalume is the head of the North Kivu section of the national coffee board. He believes everyone in the coffee supply chain should agree on minimum acceptable prices.

Mr. Mpalume says: “There’s a need to look into ways to set equitable prices and sensitize the public on the plight of smallholder farmers, as they expect to rely on coffee production to lead a dignified life.”

But it could be years before coffee prices are high enough to make growing the crop worthwhile for Congolese farmers.

In the meantime, farmers like Mrs. Mwaka will stick to growing bananas.

This story was adapted from an article titled, “Their Coffee is World-Class, but DRC Farmers Say Growing It Doesn’t Pay” by Mariam Aboubakar Esperance of Global Press Journal, DRC. To read the original article, please see: https://globalpressjournal.com/africa/democratic-republic-of-congo/coffee-world-class-drc-farmers-say-growing-doesnt-pay/