Bringing new producers to market in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Twin has been working with the Sopacdi coffee co-operative on the shores of Lake Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo to create access to the UK, European and North American market for its high quality coffee.
One of Twin’s key strategic aims is to reach out to new producer partners. In particular we want to engage new producers in Africa, accessing value-added markets for the first time, and those in post-conflict environments.
Since 2008 Twin has worked with producer organisations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with great success. Our groundbreaking work with Sopacdi in particular has helped open up new markets for some of the most marginalised coffee smallholders in the world.
The conditions in the east of the DRC are ideal for growing high quality coffee. However, infrastructure and trade has been destroyed by years of conflict and neglect since the 1960s when the DRC became independent from Belgium. Although the situation is still unstable, many farmers are looking to rebuild their lives. Coffee has the potential to provide sustainable livelihoods in the region, especially with commodity prices at a record high.
Lake Kivu was once a burgeoning hub of coffee production in East Congo. Now almost the entire crop produced along the lake is smuggled across to Rwanda to avoid high government tariffs and crippling bribe demands. This activity is undertaken at night in small to medium sized boats and is very hazardous. Official figures put the number of deaths by drowning on the lake at 1000 a year (20 a week).
Situated on the shores of Lake Kivu, on the Bulenga peninsula close to Minova, Sopacdi is one of the few Congolese coffee cooperatives working with farmers affected by the conflict.
Twin Trading has developed a strong relationship with the 3600-member Sopacdi, buying its coffee for the UK, European and US markets. Demand for Sopacdi’s coffee already exceeds its supply.
In 2010, the cooperative increased its production volume from 15 tonnes to 76.8 tonnes, with an estimated 153 tonnes due in 2011. In January 2010, Sopacdi sold its first containers of coffee on fair trade terms. In July 2011 it officially became Fairtrade certified, further guaranteeing the producers a minimum price, as well as a Fairtrade premium which the cooperative can invest in its business or community. Twin Trading has also persuaded buyers to pay an additional two cents per pound on all Sopacdi coffee. This will be used to support the empowerment of women members at the cooperative.
Twin has also been working in partnership with Sainsbury’s , Finlays and Comic Relief as part of a project funded by DfID’s FRICH initiative (Food Retail Industry Challenge Fund ) to develop, launch and promote a Congolese speciality grade coffee for distribution in the UK market. This three-year project is currently in its last phase. The project is benefiting up to 3,200 coffee farmers and their families in DRC.
In early 2011 a limited edition DRC and Malawi coffee blend, including Sopacdi coffee, was launched by Sainsbury’s in the UK for Fairtrade Fortnight and Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day.
Today over 10 per cent of Sopacdi’s 3600 producer members are women. Many of these women farmers are widows who have lost their husbands in the war or by drowning in their attempt to smuggle coffee across Lake Kivu.
In addition to our work with Sainsbury’s on the FRICH project, Twin is now engaging with Sopacdi and other cooperatives in the Great Lakes region to introduce a gender methodology that will engage farmers, both men and women, in analysing, assessing and changing their gender roles to improve their livelihoods and their business. Twin will also be investigating the market and logistical requirements for speciality ‘women’s coffee’ which will include coffee produced by Sopacdi’s women smallholders.
Twin is also working with producer organisations UGEAFI and Muugano in DRC to build capacity and improve their trade terms and marketing knowhow.