Saveur du Kivu: Where Crisis Meets Opportunity in the Congo

Opportunity can meet any crisis, no matter how horrendous.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is still simmering from twenty-five years of wars and continued conflict that has destroyed a once-thriving coffee industry and the communities dependent on it. Now, while millions of dollars from international governments and non-profits are quickly invested into the development of the sector to increase production and exports--and even as we work within an industry ripe with claims of “sustainability” and “ethical trade”--it is crucial that this work increases Congolese capacity at all crucial points.

Most of us share the desire to care for and have fun with our family and friends, and to leave a positive impact via our interactions. In coffee, those interactions happen all along the supply chain, but barriers to collective impact are everywhere. Through fearless collaboration, however, we discover partnerships and innovations we never thought possible before stepping into a room together.

So if the richest and most powerful links in the supply chain demonstrate openness to listen, valuing the voices and needs behind the millions of dollars of development funds they influence, we’ll find more impact dependent on less funding. That kind of collaboration creates a synergy that lives beyond a boardroom.

In 2015, Saveur du Kivu was formed as a transnational collaboration of coffee industry buyers, the South Kivu government, over 30 coffee growers in the region and nearly 50 representatives of the Congolese coffee sector. It was the historic first official coffee cupping competition of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The event took place as the culmination of Run Across Congo, when On the Ground organized 9 women to run 7 marathons in 7 days across the coffee growing regions of South Kivu, to highlight and raise funds for gender equality initiatives in coffee growing communities. The region’s coffee cooperatives and partner organizations, such as Eastern Congo Initiative, Twin, and Ugeafi, along with the whole government of DRC with a letter of endorsement from the President, came together to ensure its success. At Saveur, for the first time in history, coffees across the country were formally evaluated, and the entire supply chain collaborated towards the future of DRC coffee and the people who depend on it for their livelihood. It ended with the announcement of the winners and the Governor challenging the industry to include more women each year into the leadership of each sector.

Formatted as a truly egalitarian event that placed farmers and buyers on equal footing, Saveur du Kivu is proving that collaboration in fluid cross sector partnerships is more advantageous than competition among NGOs, buyers, government officials and growers.

The first SduK two years ago marked the emergence of the specialty coffee industry in the DRC, and to pull it off was no small feat. Three months beforehand, when a small coalition of NGOs gained the support needed to host from the Governor of South Kivu, there was no cupping lab, no sample roaster, and no SCAA-approved cupping supplies. What’s more, the Congolese understanding of the need for such an event was nearly non-existent.

We’ve come a long way since then, entering our third year with increased momentum. We’re building a truly collaborative supply chain in a country that has the best potential for exponential growth in quality coffee exports. Each year the event has attracted a growing number of academic luminaries, young innovative influencers, and the wise veteran sages of the coffee industry. Coffee buyers, exporters, farmer groups and interested parties will participate in a specialty cupping competition, supply chain workshops and farm visits, and this year’s event includes collaboration from DRC’s National Coffee Office (ONC), On the Ground (OTG) Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI), ELAN DRC, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Coffeelands, Relationship Coffee, Bloomberg Foundation and Agriterra, along with Higher Grounds. The list of collaborators--and the diversity among them--grows annually.

Local and international organizers will lead a series of workshops and interactive panel discussions with representatives from growing organizations, government leaders, international NGOs and buyers from around the world. Discussions will include policy and industry practices to foster gender equality and bring increased benefit to small scale growers. With a focus on market access and gender equity, these talks will advance collaboration, information sharing, and market access in a region with massive growth potential for production of high quality Arabica coffees.

Collaboration is power. Through Saveur du Kivu and all it represents, the DRC’s specialty coffee industry is shifting towards a brighter future.

-- Chris Treter --
Twitter: @tierrasa
Instagram: @christreter