Farmers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) grow both Arabica and Robusta varieties of coffee. However, despite Robusta being the lower grade coffee, it has a larger production volume than Arabica. Only 20% of Congo’s annual coffee production is Arabica.
Currently, there are over 12,000 farmers in the country who grow coffee. Most of the coffee farms in this country are located around Lake Kivu province. The coffee production supply chain is not significantly developed in Congo. However, there is a clear distribution of responsibility and distinct roles assigned to all the coffee supply chain stakeholders.
The Republic of Congo and Coffee
Robusta is grown in the low lands of the country. These regions include areas such as Ubangi, Uele, Kivu, Kasai, Bas-Congo, and Isiro. On the other hand, Arabica coffee is produced in the higher lands of Congo, including the Kivu and Ituri.
Coffee has been a popular cash crop among farmers in Congo. In the 1980-1990 decade, Congo produced a total of 120,000 metric tons of coffee. However, the production saw a sharp decline after the 1997-1998 Civil war.
Due to the unrest, farmers were not able to sell their harvest. As a result, most of them drowned in poverty and went bankrupt. As no foreign buyers were coming into the country, only a limited number of coffee buyers in the market were intentionally underpaying the farmers.
Another big hazard after the Civil War was the presence of explosives in arable lands. As the entire country turned into a battlefield, militants hid mines and explosives wherever they could. Due to this many fertile, and rich lands turned barren.
After the Civil War ended, and the Peace Agreement was signed back in December of 2002, the annual production of Coffee rose again from 32,514 metric tons to 40,642 metric tons. By 2006, Congo was exporting a total of 400,000 bags of coffee weighing 60 kilograms each.
Another blow to the country’s coffee industry was the Wilt Disease. This disease is caused by a particular fungus and spreads very rapidly. Once coffee plants are affected by this fungus, they curb to grow abruptly.
To increase the export, the Congo Government took a proactive step in 2012 by undertaking the program titled Strategy Document for the Recovery of the Coffee Sector 2011–2015. They allocated a total of US $100 Million to this project.
The program included 700 hectares of coffee land in the Bandundu province, eight South Kivu province districts, and all the Robusta farms in the Orientale province.
A History of Conflict
Congo is a country with many natural treasures. It has many lakes, big forests, mountains, volcanos. All of these features make Congo an ideal spot for coffee production. Along with its natural beauty, it has a vast deposit of gold, diamond, and cobalt. All of these features make Congo a very lucrative nation to have dominance over.
Its natural resources were the primary reason for two of its Civil War, the first one in the 1990s and the second one in the 2000s. These two Civil wars alone have cost the nation a total of 6 million lives. Furthermore, during the Civil War, malnutrition was a big challenge. Millions of people died due to hunger and lack of nutrition too.
You might read in newspapers that the conflict in Congo has long ended. But certain parts of the country are still under armed conflict. Such a region is Kivu, which is one of the top coffee-producing areas in Congo. Between January and September of 2020 alone, there were roughly 700 fatalities in the country.
Furthermore, there are only a limited number of Congo areas where you will find a washing station for coffee processing. But due to the continuing unrest, many farmers have been unable to transport their harvest to the processing facilities.
Even if they do succeed in transporting the harvest, once they reach it, they discover that the area is under military control, and all business activity is banned.
Why are these conflicts so prolonged? Well, many international parties have added fuel to the disputes. Their main motive is the country’s natural reserve. On the other hand, there is a strong disagreement between the various parties in the Congo Military. This has only exacerbated the overall situation in Congo.
Another big blow to the nation’s coffee sector was the Rwanda Genocide in 1994. This particular event spoiled the image of this African region in the global arena. Since then, the Congo’s overall coffee production has been only 10% of what it used to produce before the genocide.
To recover from the Civil War, the Government has imposed heavy taxes on all Agricultural exports. Farmers can hardly breakeven after paying their taxes.
But its neighboring countries, such as Uganda, Burundi, and Rwanda, have low taxes. This is why most farmers smuggle their coffee harvest into neighboring countries. This practice has led to losses of Millions of Dollars in Tax revenue for Congo.
Before all the Congo conflict, it was exporting a total of $164 Million USD worth of coffee. Coffee was the country’s second-largest export, right after Copper. But since the conflicts started, the overall production of coffee in Congo has dropped steadily.