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.
Since 2018, we have been buying coffee from the Congolese Kawa Kabuya cooperative, which brings together 2,200 coffee farmers. One of the big problems we faced was the fact that the cooperative did not have enough cash to pay the farmers immediately. This increases the risk that a farmer ends up selling their coffee to a broker, even at a lower price, in order to get a cash payment. That is why Colruyt Group pays 60 % of the price in advance, so that 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. “That means they were not motivated to deliver a quality product.” But their efforts are now being rewarded.
“Our initiative is built around the micro-washing stations where the coffee cherries are depulped, fermented and dried. The farmers have demonstrated that they are capable of producing top-quality beans in micro-washing stations, for which buyers are willing to pay more. By working together, brokers are eliminated from the process and innovation becomes possible. Karen Janssens, expert in sustainable sourcing at Colruyt Group, explains: “Farmers used to sell the fresh coffee beans, which were then taken by a broker to a large processing station. By keeping some of the processing in the hands of farmers, you create added value at a local level and farmers can work their way out of poverty. This is also important for Colruyt Group and is the essence of many of our chain projects.”
What is so special about the Kawa Kabuya cooperative?
Ivan explains: "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 four years in a row, proving that they can sustain the quality of their production. The growth of their exports — from 5 containers in 2016 to 13 in 2019 — is simply spectacular; particularly in a region that has been unstable for the last 20 years."
Collaboration Colruyt Group and Rikolto
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."
"When the cashflow problem presented itself and we could not find a market solution (the cooperative was unable to get a loan), Colruyt Group decided to stick its neck out and pre-finance the purchase of the container. That money was used to pay the farmers immediately. This action meant that Colruyt Group strayed slightly from its specific role (offering a sales market), but it was important to prove that we really wanted to help find a solution and as a result, the trust between the various partners in the chain has increased enormously. After 4 rounds of prefinancing, the cooperative has now gained sufficient credibility and demonstrated its ability to produce stable volumes. Now they are able to get loans from financial institutions such as Alterfin,” says Karen Janssens of Colruyt Group.
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."
Name: Ivan Godfroid
Job title: Regional Director Rikolto in DR Congo
We support local coffee farmers so that they can organise themselves better and produce better coffee. And, in turn, be paid better.
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.
With this initiative, we contribute to the following Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.