Gorilla Coffee Alliance to enhance rural livelihoods & wildlife conservation in Democratic Republic of the Congo
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 on 19 October 2021 by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID); Nespresso; Olam 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.
“USAID’s launch of the Gorilla Coffee Alliance is a critical milestone for the US Government’s partnership with the Congolese people and the product of over a decade of USAID’s investment in working alongside Congolese farmers to replant coffee trees in a conflict-ravaged region,” noted USAID DRC mission director Paul Sabatine. “Revitalising DRC’s coffee sector makes me proud to coinvest alongside Nespresso and OFI, particularly given our common desire to promote sustainable livelihoods by protecting Congo’s wildlife and natural resources.”
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 aims to address this challenge by helping local families to establish environmentally sustainable ways to earn income, improving access to essential health services, and working with community institutions to become advocates for conserving the national park. The Alliance will improve total farm productivity to support farmer revenues and protect long-term soil health, biodiversity, and the vital ecological function of one of the world’s largest forests.
“The greatest force for conservation is a local community that is invested in protecting its natural resources,” said TechnoServe CEO and president William Warshauer. “We are excited to join these extraordinary partners and apply TechnoServe’s long experience supporting coffee-growing communities to help the people of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park area create healthy communities, sustainable economies, and a flourishing ecosystem.”
The environmentally sustainable production of coffee is central to this vision. South Kivu’s climate is well suited for growing high-quality coffee, and its sales in specialty coffee markets have increased in recent years. Around Kahuzi-Biega National Park, however, farmers struggle to access the training, high-quality coffee seedlings, and shade trees needed to improve their production; and many local coffee washing stations do not have enough capacity or technical ability to adequately process locally grown coffee.
Guillaume Le Cunff, CEO of Nespresso, said: “We’re incredibly proud to be joining this partnership to breathe new life into the region’s coffee industries and communities, which will foster vital economic growth while preserving local ecosystems in Kivu. Through our Reviving Origins program, we have been working to successfully revitalise production in several challenged coffee producing regions around the world since 2019, and we’re excited about the important projects underway in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We strongly believe that coffee can be a force for good, because it can help to shape communities and preserve landscapes, leaving a positive impact on the lives of people and nature.”
Vivek Verma, managing director and CEO of the OFI coffee business, said: “This ambitious alliance will be a real game changer for a region that has faced conflict, poverty, and natural disaster. Building on years of close collaboration with local farmers, we will help Kivu to build its reputation for exceptional coffee and make a real difference to long-term farmer revenues. But our vision goes far beyond coffee. With the help of our partners, we will bring innovation to local farming systems, helping to improve lives and livelihoods, regenerate soils, and protect precious biodiversity in the world’s second-largest tropical forest. And using the sustainability insights platform, AtSource, we will be able to monitor the progress we are making towards the desired social and environmental impact.”
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 revitalise 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.
Deo Kujirakwinja, WCS DRC technical director, said: “Engaging the community surrounding Kahuzi-Biega National Park is critical to protecting Grauer’s gorillas. The Gorilla Coffee Alliance will help ensure a future for these great apes, which are a key part of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s natural heritage.”