In the 1970s and 80s, the Lake Kivu region at the border of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda was one of Africa’s leading exporters of coffee. But a wave of violence that began in the 1990s, coupled with poverty and disease, has claimed the lives of over 5 million people, displaced many more, and destroyed much of the country’s coffee market—shrinking production from 110,000 metric tons in the late 1980s to about 50,000 metric tons in 2009. Despite the odds, the 4,000 smallholders in the region have continued producing coffee, albeit with old and rudimentary equipment and with little access to international markets. To sell their coffee, they had to smuggle their crop across Lake Kivu into Rwanda, traveling at night in small boats. Without buyers and little institutional support, quality and productivity declined precipitously.
Recognizing that reliable incomes from
coffee could help bring stability to the South Kivu region, and that it
has the potential to become a beacon of coffee quality, World Coffee
Research is participating in the USAID Feed the Future-funded
Strengthening Value Chains project to increase incomes for 15,000 coffee
farmers in South Kivu through increased coffee productivity, value
addition through washing, financial management, and strengthened market
The project enhances coffee production by delivering
agronomy training; conducting targeted research to provide better
information on profitability and key productivity constraints; offering
business coaching to wet mills and establishing new mills; facilitating
access to new markets; enhancing marketing efforts; facilitating access
to finance; and developing and introducing new varieties.
WCR is assisting the project by installing 30 farmer field trials to understand which combinations of improved varieties and climate-smart farming practices drive the largest profitability gains, and installing 6 multilocation agronomy trials to identify the rate of return on investment on novel approaches to agronomy, including densification, the use of cover crops, intercropping with soy and beans, organic fertilization formulation and doses, fertilizer application rates. In addition, WCR is assisting with the establishment of professionalized seed lots for the mass production of improved varieties, and research to understand the key constraints to improved productivity (such as dieback, old trees, etc.)
But helping farmers grow more and better coffee is only half the battle. The Kivu region has limited infrastructure for processing and marketing coffee; WCR is also therefore providing technical assistance to train cuppers and facilitate the Saveur de Kivu cupping event to bring international attention to the coffees. In 2019, four coffees from the competition scored over 90 points.
The SVC project will increase incomes for South Kivu coffee farmers through multiple channels, including technical interventions like coffee variety enhancements, soil fertility improvements and intercropping practices. WCR’s contribution to the project is specifically tied to improving yields and quality since higher yields directly translate to higher incomes; and higher quality brings more stable relationships with buyers. WCR is also collaborating with the local Universite Catholique de Bukavu to ensure that an applied research program can continue to support local farmers in making informed and economically meaningful decisions regarding varieties, plantation renovation, inter-cropping and fertilization for years to come.