Congo is the second largest country in Africa and one of the most suitable countries on the continent for growing quality coffee.
Table of Contents
Origin of coffee in the Congo
To go back to the origins of coffee in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we need to talk about the following key moments:
- The coffee is imported into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from Liberia.
- The Belgian colonizers discover the Robusta variety that grows in the Congo and decide to start agricultural production. Much of the coffee is not produced by small farmers.
- Congo becomes independent from Belgium and the land is divided up so that each farmer gets a small piece of land.
- State funds are severely cut.
- The harvests are declining, which is mainly due to the lack of infrastructure and the exodus of foreigners.
- Coffee production is nationalized.
- In the 1980s, coffee contributed around US$164 million to the country’s economic activity.
- The Congolese government is trying to boost the coffee industry by lowering export tariffs.
- Coffee is the country’s most important agricultural export and the second most important after copper.
- Only 14% of the coffee harvested in Congo comes from the plantations.
- The DRC exports 121,235 tons of coffee.
- The country’s coffee industry has been struggling mainly because of the First and Second World Wars in Congo, but now also because of the spread of coffee wilt, which is particularly affecting the Robusta plants, which make up the bulk of DRC coffee.
- Only 2% of the coffee harvested in Congo comes from the plantations.
1996 – 2003
- The first and second Congo wars take place.
- Coffee production in 60-kilogram (130-pound) bags is 470,000 bags of Robusta and 100,000 bags of arabica.
- Cooperatives are being set up across the country, some supported by government development agencies while others are funded by international NGOs.
- Coffee production is 6096 tons, which is less than 10% of late 1980s production.
- The Congolese government is providing 100 million US dollars for investments in the country’s coffee industry, giving priority to coffee-growing areas such as South Kivu, as these areas offer optimal conditions for growing the high-quality Arabica variety. It is estimated that investing money to revitalize the coffee sector would lead to an increase in production to 121,926 tons in 2015.
- There are more than 11,000 coffee farmers in the Republic of Congo.
- The first democratic elections since independence in 1960 are held in the Congo.
- Ebola outbreak in North Kivu.
- About 11,000 tons are exported.
- Most of the coffee produced today is produced by small farmers who grow their coffee on less than one hectare of land. Coffee is often grown alongside beans and bananas to ensure food security in farmer households. It is difficult to find large coffee farms and even more difficult to find excellent Congolese coffees.
Coffee flavors in the Congo
The flavor profiles of Congolese coffees vary from one area to another. For example, Congolese Arabica coffees are characterized by a full body and flavors of tea, chocolate, spices, dark fruits and citrus fruits, while Congolese Robusta coffees feature flavors of blackcurrant, chocolate and nuts.
The Robusta variety Petit Kwilu, on the other hand, has a balanced acidity that is ideal for blends.
A wide range of flavors can be found in the Kivu region of Congo, including notes of melon, liquorice, cherry, plum, vanilla, chocolate and hazelnut.
Coffee of Congolese origin comes in a variety of flavors, including tropical fruits, sweet tobacco, roasted nuts, and spices.
Cultivation regions in the Congo
Coffee is grown in the following regions of Congo.
- This region is located in north Kivu.
- Various types of coffee are grown here, e.g. B. Rutshuru, Masisi, Walikale and Nyiragongo.
- The area of this region is ten thousand square kilometers.
- The coffees in this region grow at an altitude of between 1,400 and 1,800 meters above sea level.
- Petit Nord coffees have a smooth body, a citric acidity and notes of lemon, blackberry and grape.
- Petit Nord borders Virunga National Park, home to a European Union-funded coffee program run by Virunga Alliance and Farm Africa.
- Petit Nord’s soil is clayey and sandy.
- It is one of the largest coffee-growing regions in Congo.
- The region produces a large amount of both Robusta and Arabica beans.
- The area of this region is almost twenty-five thousand square meters.
- The coffees from this region have notes of tropical fruits, honey and lemon.
- The region is home to the Ruwenzori Mountains, which border Uganda.
- The coffees of this region grow at an altitude of between 1200 and 2200 meters above sea level.
- The region is located in western Congo.
- Robusta beans are mainly grown in central Congo.
- The region was formerly known as Bas-Congo.
- The harvest in this region takes place between March and June.
- The region is located in the north of the Congo.
- Ituri shares a border with Lake Albert and Uganda.
- The region has an area of about five thousand square meters, where large mountain ranges and deep valleys can be found.
- The soils in Ituri are loamy and sandy, which allows for the cultivation of high-quality coffee.
- The coffees of this region are grown at altitudes between 1600 and 1900 meters above sea level.
- The coffees from this region have notes of grapefruit, sugar cane, blackcurrant and plum.
- The coffee grown in Ituri is often smuggled into Uganda, which is a major problem.
- The region is held in high esteem by shoppers as the quality of the coffee and consistent production levels make it one of the top choices in the country.
- The region is located in the northwest of the Congo.
- The harvest in Équateur is mainly based on the Robusta variety.
- Harvest time in this region is between October and January.
Bord du Lac
- The region lies on the border between Congo and Rwanda in the Albertine Rift.
- Bord du Luc has excellent growing conditions.
- The area of this region is about seven thousand square kilometers.
- Bord du Lac has 3 main growing areas: Kabare, Idjwi Island and Kalehe.
- The coffees of this region are grown at altitudes between 1450 and 1800 meters above sea level.
- The coffees from this region have notes of apple, tropical fruits, coffee blossom, jasmine, chocolate, blackberry and orange.
- Bord du Lac is home to some of the most prestigious cooperatives such as SOPACDI and Muungano.
- It consists of 3 provinces: North Kivu, South Kivu and Maniema, all centered around Lake Kivu.
- The coffees in this region are grown at altitudes between 1460 and 2000 meters above sea level.
- The harvest in this region takes place between October and September.
- Bourbon is the main coffee variety grown in Kivu.
- The region is located in the southeast of the Congo.
- The area of the region is about sixteen thousand square kilometers.
- Bourbon is the most commonly used variety in Ruzizi.
- The region lies in a volcanic area and therefore produces coffees with citrus and fruit aromas.
- Ruzizi coffees are medium-bodied and have aromas of lemon and melon with citrus and fruit undertones.
- Ruzizi shares a border with Rwanda and Burundi.
- The coffees in this region are grown at altitudes between 1400 and 2400 meters above sea level.
- The region is located in the east of the Congo.
- Kongo Oriental coffee is grown at altitudes between 1400 and 2200 meters above sea level.
- Robusta beans are mainly grown in the region.
- Harvest time in Kongo Oriental is between October and September.
Challenges for the coffee industry in Congo
In the Congo, various challenges have to be overcome in order for coffee to regain its importance; these are named below:
- Republic of Congo coffee buyers often set the price based on the New York Stock Exchange, which can be very detrimental to coffee farmers as they do not get a good price for their product.
- The buyers in the Congo cannot buy the entire harvest from the farmers, or they offer more money for some containers and less for others.
- The cooperatives and the various groups of coffee farmers do not have access to pre-harvest financing, which becomes a major problem as people cannot cover the production costs without a contract.
- Corruption in Congo is causing delays in the coffee industry. In many cases, officials have to be paid to bypass the roadblocks, otherwise the coffee cannot be transported for long periods of time. Corruption also exists in the very high taxes levied on the export of agricultural products. Therefore, people decide to smuggle coffee to neighboring countries.
- Since Congo’s independence from Belgium in 1960, there has been political instability and numerous conflicts. The various deposits of valuable minerals have been a major point of contention during the various rebellions that have taken place over the years.
- Since there are no good roads in Congo, it is very difficult for people in remote areas to transport the coffee to the big cities where it is bought.
- The coffee industry in Congo received heavy financial support from the government in the 1980s and 1990s. It had 26 research stations across the country and over 300 professionals working at the National Institute for Agricultural Studies of the Belgian Congo.
- Congo has a population of 87 million people. This is the fourth largest population on the African continent.
- Armed conflicts in Congo have claimed the lives of more than 6 million people and displaced thousands in recent years.
- The Republic of Congo exported 120,000 tons of coffee in the late 1970s, down from 10,000 tons in 2002.
- The quality Arabica variety now enjoys greater recognition in the Congo.
- In the last 10 years, exports of the Congolese Arabica variety increased from 8,000 and 9,000 tons to around 12,000 tons per year.
- The vast majority of the Congolese population lives in a difficult economic situation and earns less than USD 1.90 per day, even though the country is rich in natural resources such as cobalt, gold, tin, diamonds and other mineral resources.
- In the 1980s, coffee was Congo’s second most important export after copper.
- In the 1990s and 2000s, Congo exported only 10-15% of what it exported before the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
- About 70% of the Republic of Congo’s coffee production is transported to neighboring countries such as Uganda and Rwanda, where it is blended with local production.
- Between January and September 2020, more than 700 people died in armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
- In the late 1980s, the country was producing around 120,000-130,000 tons per year.
- Congo produces 80% Robusta and 20% Arabica.
- The first European in the DRC was the famous explorer David Livingstone.
- The coffee industry kept many people alive during the armed conflict by giving back part of the income to smallholder families, while the money from copper and chlorate exports went mainly to the mine owners. However, these minerals have been the main drivers of the country’s wealth throughout history.
- According to the New York Times, coffee production in 2010 was less than 10% of 1990 production.
- Congo is the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa.
- More than 1,000 people die each year trying to cross Lake Kivu, a distance many people have to travel to sell their coffee on the Rwandan side of the lake.
- Until 1976, the National Coffee Board (ONC), the national regulator, had a monopoly on the coffee export market.
- The Congo was colonized by the brutal Belgian King Leopold II in the 1880s.
- After price controls were lifted in the early 1980s, some chaos reigned as the coffee industry had changed the way it worked, allowing growers to farm their own land and compete for market share. However, this turned out to be very difficult because there was a lot of competition, which made it very difficult to enter the market. Some received fair prices according to their location and access to markets, while others were ripped off.
- Blue Mountain and Bourbon are the most popular coffees in Congo.
- Most people in Congo speak French.
- The main cooperatives in Congo are Muungano, Sopacdi and Furaha.
- For more than 20 years, the Congolese have suffered violence, displacement and the loss of their property at the hands of the armed forces and various rebel groups.
- A coffee conference and tasting competition called Saveur du Kivu is organized in the Republic of Congo. This is the main coffee festival in Congo, funded by Higher Grounds. Most importantly, the festival gives the cooperatives and farmers the opportunity to share their harvests with international buyers.
- The coffee exporters have to pay a large amount of taxes, duties and fees. Add to that the bribes they pay to customs and border officials.
- Virunga National Park is the first national park established in Africa. It is known for being home to a third of all mountain gorillas in the world.
- The first inhabitants of the Congo settled more than 90,000 years ago.
- In the DRC, it is estimated that between 14% and 18% of the fob value of a shipment is spent on taxes.
- The Kawa Kanzururu cooperative in North Kivu farms an average of 0.37 hectares. This cooperative is also home to about 22 micro-wash stations, two of which are run by women.
- The non-profit organization On the Ground conducts various literacy and gender equality workshops in 5 communities of the Muungano coffee cooperative on the shores of Lake Kivu.
- Congo was once known as “Coffee Paradise”.
- More than 50% of households in the Republic of Congo do not have access to safe water systems.
- The export process in Congo can take up to 4 weeks as more than 50 signatures are required for a shipment to be released for export.
- Kivu was a base for various rebel groups in the 1990s.
- Virunga Alliance and Farm Africa have launched an initiative called Virunga Coffee in Congo, funded by the European Union.
- Transparency International report entitled Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 ranks the Democratic Republic of the Congo 168 out of 180 countries. Eighty-five percent of respondents said corruption has increased over the past 12 months. On the other hand, 80% of users of public services indicated that they had to pay a bribe over the same period.
- Congo’s economy is mainly based on agriculture. The main products are coffee, sugar and oil.
- After the peace agreement was signed in December 2002, coffee production increased significantly: from 32,514 tons in 2002 to 40,642 tons in 2003.
- Congolese farmers make 15% more money by bringing the coffee to nearby countries like Uganda and Rwanda than by selling it locally.
- Operating costs in the Congolese coffee industry are between 66% and 133% higher than in Uganda.
- Congo currently accounts for just 0.14% of world coffee exports.
- In Congo, it takes about 45 days for the coffee to leave the country and reach the port of Mombasa in Kenya, while in other countries like Uganda, it only takes 10-14 days for the coffee to leave the country.
- Blue Bottle Coffee Co.’s “The Africans” coffee.
- The coffee industry brings money and stability to the Kivu region, one of the regions hardest hit by armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
- Between 1995 and 1998, Congolese growers earned around 67 cents per pound of Arabica coffee.
- According to the International Coffee Organization, the DRC produced 82.8 million kilograms of exportable coffee between 1990 and 1991.
- Production of over 8 million kilograms (17.6 million pounds) was reported between 2017 and 2018.
- The USAI estimated that in 2017 most farmers were cultivating less than one hectare of land and producing between 100 and 400 kilograms.
The SOPACDI cooperative and its importance for the Congolese coffee industry
SOPACDI (Solidarity Paysanne for the promotion of the Actions Café et Développement Intégral) is one of the most important cooperatives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was founded in 2008 and is based in Kivu in the northwest of the country.
SOPACDI has more than 4,000 growers working to improve the lives of their communities through coffee.
During the armed conflict, many women were raped and many men were killed or forced to emigrate. For this reason, 20% of SOPACDI producers are women, who have the same decision-making powers in the cooperative as men.
SOPACDI also stands out for having a quality control system at different levels of the harvest and for being the first Congolese cooperative to be certified Fair Trade and Organic.
It is worth noting that cooperatives like SOPACDI bring more transparency throughout the value chain and help coffee farmers to be valued in the specialty coffee industry.
Remember that coffee farmers need a stable income to improve their quality of life and that of their families in areas such as nutrition, access to health care and education.
Recommendations for preparing Congolese coffee
Since the Congolese coffee is predominantly of the Robusta variety, we give you the following recommendations so that you get the best taste:
- Use more water and less coffee to remove the intense and bitter taste of the Robusta beans.
- Try to keep the brewing time under 4 minutes to bring out the sweetness of the coffee.
- Pour-over is the best method for brewing Congolese coffee as it gives you more control over the brew.
Does Nespresso have organic coffee from the Congo?
Kahawa in 2021 yeah Congo, an organic coffee from Congo. This coffee is available as part of Nespresso’s Reviving Origins program, which aims to boost coffee production in regions affected by climate change or war, such as Congo.
Congo was not the only country where the Reviving Origings’ was present because it was also carried out in countries such as Uganda, Zimbabwe and Colombia.
The Coffee Kahawa yeah Congo comes from the Lake Kivu region and is characterized by mild, fruity notes and sweet aromas of nuts and grains.
In addition, Nespresso is working with international non-profit organization TechnoServe, coffee retailer Virunga Coffee/ Olam International and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to give more than 2,500 farmers in South Kivu the opportunity to earn their income by improving processes that can increase coffee quality and yield.
What does the future of coffee in Congo look like?
Everything indicates that coffee will play a key role in transforming the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the coming years. It can become a symbol of hope.
The country’s excellent conditions for growing coffee, e.g. B. the altitude and the nutrient-rich soils, which favor the production of very tasty coffees, should not be neglected.
It is therefore very likely that the new generations will support Congolese coffee as by buying the coffee they are helping many coffee farmers to improve their quality of life who have been fighting for the improvement of their country’s coffee economy for many years.
In this respect, it will also be important that the government does even more to improve research and development of specialty coffee and supports the various cooperatives and reduces the bureaucracy in exports.
Coffee is undoubtedly an indispensable element in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Although the coffee industry is slow to recover after so many years of conflict, it is clear that Congolese coffee, with its excellent taste and quality, will play an important role in the social and economic reconstruction of this African country.