Our coffee project in East Congo demonstrates the power of sustainable entrepreneurship

"A particularly pleasant surprise," is the response of Godfroid from Rikolto to our collaboration in East Congo. "Colruyt Group has shown a radical level of commitment." We are working with Rikolto (Islands of Peace) in the province of North Kivu to support 2,200 small coffee farmers as part of a chain project. Pre-financing sustainable coffee cultivation allows us to export this top coffee to Belgium. Despite the unstable situation in the region, the project is posting strong results. Ivan Godfroid is full of praise about our partnership.

Coffee from Kivu has more taste

The coffee beans from the highlands of Kivu are unique; thanks to the fertile soil and vast lakes, the region produces extraordinarily tasty Arabica beans. The ongoing conflicts have taken their toll, but coffee production is now undergoing a revival. We want to work with Rikolto to drive recovery in Kivu, despite the violence and the infrastructure problems. The NGO, based in Leuven in Belgium, groups coffee farmers into cooperatives and gives them access to the international market, to generate a more sustainable economy.

For a minimum of three years, we will buy coffee from the Kawa Kabuya cooperative, which brings together 2,200 coffee farmers. 60% of the price will be paid in advance, so the cooperative has financial breathing space to continue exporting and investing. "For many years, coffee farmers in East Congo were dependent on local brokers and smugglers, who paid prices that were too low," says Ivan Godfroid, regional director at Rikolto in the Democratic Republic of Congo. "So, they were not motivated to deliver a quality product." But their efforts are now being rewarded.

A washing station for coffee farmers in Kivu
This washing station allows coffee farmers to improve how production is organised, which benefits the quality.
Video: Black pearls from Kivu

What is Rikolto's solution?

"Our initiative is built around the washing stations where the coffee cherries are depulped, fermented and dried. We have taught the farmers that they are capable of producing top-quality beans in micro-washing stations, which will command higher prices from buyers. If they work together, they no longer need the parasitical brokers," Ivan explains. "We have connected them with buyers like Colruyt Group, who also prioritise the welfare of the coffee farmers." Honest trade allows these coffee farmers to escape poverty.

What is so special about the Kawa Kabuya cooperative?

Ivan: "From the start, Kawa Kabuya has had to be self-sufficient, which is why we asked the farmers to help to pay for the washing stations. Being co-owners makes them more committed — and that has paid off. They won the 'Taste of Harvest' prize for the best coffee in the Congo three years in a row, proving that they can sustain the quality of their production. The growth of their exports — from five containers in 2016 to 14 in 2017 — is simply spectacular; particularly in a region that has been unstable for the last 20 years."

What does the collaboration with Colruyt Group mean for you?

Ivan: "Colruyt Group is the first trading partner for our coffee programme in East Congo, presenting the coffee from Kawa Kabuya to a wide audience. This strengthens the bonds between Belgium and the Congo thanks to a respectfully-traded product with added value. This is because you focus on both the quality and the local producers. We use Colruyt Group's commitment as an example for new buyers, who are beginning to be interested in the Kivu coffees. Colruyt Group is the trendsetter."

Sacks of coffee in a warehouse in the port of Antwerp
The coffee is brought to Antwerp by ship and then transported onwards to our roasting facility.

How is Colruyt Group setting the trend?

Ivan: "We were particularly pleasantly surprised by Colruyt Group's radical level of commitment. Whereas most business people have written the Congo off as a hopeless country, Colruyt Group has taken a risk on an unknown cooperative that still has everything to prove. You are the only buyer who has entered into a long-term contract with Kawa Kabuya. You are the only buyer who is brave enough to pay 60% of the price in advance for three seasons. Colruyt Group has also committed itself to diversifying the coffee products from Kawa Kabuya, which puts the quality of this coffee even more strongly in the spotlight and also increases sales. This successful project demonstrates that a commercial long-term vision and sustainable entrepreneurship can really add value for small producers."

Identikit

Name: Ivan Godfroid
Job title: Regional Director Rikolto in DR Congo

Job?
We support local coffee farmers so that they can organise themselves better and produce better coffee. And, in turn, be paid better.

Energy?
The efforts of the farmers in East Congo to build a better future for themselves and their children get our full support.

Most enjoyable project?
Our coffee programme, where Colruyt Group plays an important role. It is bringing about the most profound changes for thousands of farming families.

Ivan Godfroid

Met dit initiatief dragen we bij aan het realiseren van deze Duurzame Ontwikkelingsdoelstellingen van de Verenigde Naties.

No proverty Decent work & economic growth Industry, innovation & infrastructure