Congolese Women recognized as Business Partners
High quality coffee thrives in the climatic and geographical conditions of the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, infrastructure and trade have been in decline since the 1960’s, when DRC became independent, and were fully destroyed in the years following the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Today, although the situation is still unstable, many farmers are looking for means to rebuild their lives again. Fairtrade coffee, which already has proven to be a powerful conflict resolution tool in other unstable regions, has the potential to provide sustainable livelihoods in this region, especially with commodity prices at record heights.
Situated on the shores of Lake Kivu, SOPACDI is one of few Congolese coffee cooperatives working with farmers affected by the violence in the region. With support from different organisations, led by Twin Trading, SOPACDI has built up its capacity to produce and export coffee of the highest international standard. The cooperative became officially Fairtrade certified in July.
The high coffee quality, in conjunction with effective marketing, has been the key to the organization’s success. Investments have been made at every level, including on farm coffee rehabilitation, processing infrastructure and business and governance capacity. Today, demand for SOPACDI’s coffee exceeds its supply, with interest from many traders in the US and Japan.
Over 600 of SOPACDI’s 3200 producer members are women, many of whom are widows. Like in many African countries, rural women play an important role in agriculture in Congo. However, as most land is owned by men, they remain dependent and have limited access to credit. The SOPACDI’s Women’s Committee already has a representative on the organisation’s board but the organization plans to take matters a step further. An empowerment project by Fairtrade organisation and Twin will help a number of cooperatives like SOPACDI to install gender equity and equality in all their activities. In addition, Twin supports the development of a market for women’s coffee so that women farmers can benefit directly from the crops they produce.
From this year onwards, a women’s premium is being paid on all purchases of SOPACDI coffee. In recognition of the fact that 20% of SOPACDI’s membership is female, roasters pay a 10 cents/lb premium on 20% the coffee they buy (thus adding 2 cents/lb to the overall price they pay for SOPACDI coffee). The women farmers have already prioritized their needs once the 2011 premiums are available – an estimated USD 8,000. A common shelter needs to be built,coffee fields maintained and medical expenses and school feespaid. The women would also like to be more engaged in the regional economy.
“We need more support to ensure women are able to build their individual capacity so we are better prepared to take care of our families. Congolese women often are alone on this journey,”says Immaculee Nimavu Musangi, one of the women leaders at the cooperative.