News / Africa

Congo Cooperative Offers Employment to Ex-Combatants

Coffee beans (file photo)Coffee beans (file photo)
x
Coffee beans (file photo)
Coffee beans (file photo)
Nick Long
A cooperative in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sopacdi's, is helping to relaunch a traditional export and, at the same time, encourage the region's ex-combatants make a better — and less violent — living from coffee. 
 
It’s a bumpy three-hour ride from Sopacdi’s headquarters in the town of Minova to the National Coffee Office in Goma, capital of North Kivu province. Getting certification for Congolese coffee was not an entirely smooth journey either, says Sopacdi’s president Joachim Munganga, as he travels back to Minova.
 
It took two years to get the fair trade certificate, he says, owing to the standards required for the organization of the cooperative, concerning respect for the environment and workers’ contracts.
 
The co-op started in 2003, but its breakthrough to the luxury coffee market came when it was introduced in 2008 to a British non-governmental organization, TWIN, which helps to pair producers in developing countries with supermarket chains in the West.
 
It was Britain's Sainsburys markets, working with TWIN and the British development agency, which first marketed Sopacdi under the fair trade label last year.  This year the co-op won an organic certificate and it now has seven buyers in Europe, the United States and Japan.
 
Minova is a fast-growing town on the shores of Lake Kivu - many people trying to escape conflict have migrated here.  Sopacdi’s office looks busy and organized, with files listing each coffee growers production and each workers' hours at the washing station where the coffee berries are processed.
 
Munganga says Sopacdi was created in response to pressing needs. 

A few years ago, most of the coffee from the area was taken across Lake Kivu at night to Rwanda, and the sudden storms that blow up on the lake had drowned many desperate smugglers, along with their cargo. Coffee growers needed better access to markets.
 
The members were also looking for ways to reconcile communities divided by conflict.
 
The founders of Sopacdi, Munganga says, were trying to think what they could contribute to resolving the ethnic conflicts in the area, and they thought perhaps they should bring producers together and persuade them to organize themselves into a co-op. Members of rival communities now work together at the co-op’s different branches, electing their leaders and promoting group interests.
 
Congo’s high taxes on coffee exports are still an incentive for smuggling, however.    
 
In Congo, the export tax is about 12 percent, says Munganga, while in Rwanda it is one percent and in Uganda it’s zero percent for coffee.
 
This is a lawless area.  As VOA discovered later, a group of young men and boys was doing a victory run around the town to celebrate the fact they had just killed a bandit, who was also a soldier.  They had left his body outside a military camp.
 
Sopacdi’s guided tour continued with a visit to a meeting of co-op representatives.  The 3,600 members, who all work for themselves, are divided into groups of about fifty farmers, who elect their leaders, who in turn elect so-called sector representatives who elect the president.
 
John Buchugwazi, a sector chairman, said in an interivew with VOA that his hectare of coffee trees brought in about $400 last season. There are two coffee seasons in the year.
 
Coffee is more profitable than other crops, he says, especially as Sopacdi has shown its members how to get better yields and quality.

The cooperative offers the farmers a price about 25 percent higher than they could otherwise hope for, and the buyers are paying double the export price.  Profits are plowed back into development and employing the many staff, including two agronomists, 12 monitors and about 170 other workers. Several of the monitors are women as are nearly a thousand of the co-op members.
 
A key factor in the co-op’s success at obtaining certification is its washing station, where a machine depulps the coffee berries — in other words removes the outer flesh.
 
Doing this process by hand takes ages and can mean loss of freshness, whereas the co-op’s trucks take the beans to the station for depulping, fermenting, washing and drying within hours of them being picked.
 
Many ex-combatants work at the washing station, which employs 161 people.  Former rebel Habamungu Engavashapa says he is happy with civilian life. Now he spends his nights in a house whereas before he was spending them in the forest.
 
Ex-soldier Abdul Mahagi is also pleased with his new job.
 
He said he suffered when he was in the army but now he’s beginning to feel more at ease.  Since working with Sopacdi he’s been trained as a machinist, he has a contract and is earning money and beginning to see how to organize his life.

The final test of the cooperative’s work is a quick cup of coffee.
 
There are more remote areas of the DRC, where armed groups are even more of a problem, which in theory could also produce coffee for the international market.
 
The key to qualifying for the gourmet grades of coffee seems to be having access to machinery which can process the coffee berries quickly.  But even without that machinery, hand processed coffee beans have a ready market and once dried can be stored for long periods while the producers wait for collection.

So far, all of this has meant jobs and money for remote areas of Congo.

You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More