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

Video Miami Cubans Divided on New US Policy

While older, more conservative Cuban Americans have promoted anti-Castro political movement for years, younger generations say economically, it is time for change More

2014 Sees Dramatic Uptick in Boko Haram Abductions

Militants suspected in latest mass kidnapping of over 100 people in Gumsuri, Nigeria on Sunday More

Video Cuba Deal Is Major Victory for Pope

Role of Francis hailed throughout US, Latin America - though some Cuban-American Catholics have mixed feelings 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.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid