In the rich volcanic soils that line the shores of Lake Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, grow some of the world’s most exclusive arabica beans.

Photo Credit - Deo Kujirakwinja, WCS

The eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo has seen years of economic and political turmoil, which has impacted the well-being of local communities and threatened the unique biodiversity of the area. Now, a new partnership will promote better livelihoods for local farmers and protect the region’s endemic and critically endangered Grauer’s gorilla.

The Gorilla Coffee Alliance was launched in 2021 by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)NespressoOlam Food Ingredients (ofi); international nonprofits, TechnoServe and the Wildlife Conservation Society; and Congolese social enterprise, Asili. Over five years, this initiative will partner with 8,500 farming households to improve their coffee production and sales and reduce poaching and deforestation around Kahuzi-Biega National Park in DRC’s South Kivu province.

Kahuzi-Biega National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the few remaining habitats of the world’s 6,800 estimated remaining eastern lowland or Grauer’s gorillas. But, political unrest, population growth, and the absence of sustainable economic opportunities in the area have put the national park and the wildlife it protects at risk from illegal logging, poaching, and mining.

The Gorilla Coffee Alliance, which is made possible due to the support of the American people through USAID in partnership with Nespresso’s Reviving Origins program and ofi, aims to revitalize coffee production in regions impacted by adversities ranging from climate change to conflict. The Alliance will train farmers in regenerative agriculture and help local entrepreneurs and farmers set up nurseries that provide high-quality coffee and shade-tree seedlings. It will also work with coffee washing stations to enable them to access finance and technical assistance that will improve their capacity to process coffee at quality levels demanded by Nespresso and other specialty markets. Participating washing stations are expected to double their output by 2026.

Taking a holistic approach, the Alliance will also work with local families to improve community resilience, health, and engagement. The initiative will build the entrepreneurial skills of young and Indigenous people, particularly in non-farming households, so they can start environmentally sustainable businesses. It will also train families in communities surrounding the forest to enable them to improve their nutritional status and financial literacy and plant kitchen gardens. Through the Asili platform, the Alliance will improve access to health clinics and clean water points. Lastly, it will help to mobilize existing community governance structures to support conservation and combat poaching, logging, and mining.

Creating transformative impact: 

Empowering farmers

10,000 coffee farmers from communities bordering the Kahuzi-Biega National Park will receive support to:

  • Increase productivity with training on Good Agricultural Practices such as direct planting techniques instead of tillage to improve soil health, free pruning services for four years, provision of over a million highly subsidised coffee seedlings to rejuvenate farms, and access to improved varieties promoted by National Agricultural Study and Research Institute (INERA).
  • Inter-crop farms with food crops like banana as additional food and income sources; fruit or native trees to provide shade; Calliandra, as an effective soil binder to prevent erosion; and small-livestock to provide organic fertiliser and a source of protein for farmers’ diets.
  • Improve coffee quality and incomes through post-harvest processing technical training and management.

Promoting healthier coffee communities

  • In collaboration with social enterprise Asili, the partnership delivers essential services in the region with improved affordable access to clean water and new medical facilities to provide better healthcare services to 5,000 – 10,000  members of local communities.
  • Gender inclusion and women’s leadership will be promoted within farmer training activities with microenterprise and microcredit solutions to support marginalised groups, namely women, youth, and indigenous peoples.

Regenerating coffee ecosystems

Deforestation, poaching and illegal mining will be reduced over 100,000 hectares of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park along Lake Kivu by:

  • Working with park authorities to sensitise the local population on the ecological value of the park and its resources, such as purified water extracted from the porous forest soils.
  • Mapping ecological hotspots for targeted interventions to protect biodiversity, supported by digital tools like the Olam Farmer Information System (OFIS).
  • Promoting regenerative techniques on farms to combat drastic soil erosion on the steep sloped coffee fields, including no tillage and planting perennial crops and strips of thick grass. 
  • Developing new methods to recycle coffee waste into organic resources: Using the discarded pulp to create by-products like cascara and organic compost, thereby avoiding methane emissions from anaerobic decomposition; producing and exploring the use of biochar for soil amendment, carbon sequestration, and waste-water filtering; and partnering with a local social enterprise to convert discarded coffee parchment into fire logs.

Progress snapshot (Dec 2022):

  • US$1.9 million generated in annual sales for supported farmers
  • US$925,900 provided in total agricultural finance to support on-farm activities
  • 4,732 coffee farmers trained (2,173 women) on pruning, soil health, and shade tree management
  • 92,315 old coffee trees pruned by an ofi-trained youth team • 927,957 coffee seedlings distributed to over 1,500 farmers (431,227 in FY22 & 496,729 in FY23)
  • 225 youth (132 women) in the community received training on entrepreneurship skills