The region around the Great Lakes of Central Africa — Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo — is better known for its conflict than for its coffee. However, these countries are traditional coffee-producing lands that have emerged as a vital source of high-end coffee in less than ten years. The potential advantages of the Great Lakes region producing fair coffee are a direct consequence of hard-working farmers, high-growing elevation, volcanic soil, and the temperature-moderating influence of the region’s freshwater lakes.
COCAGI is a cooperative that was created in 2004 thanks to the joint action of 22 producers concerned about the decrease in value of coffee after the 1994 genocide. Today, the cooperative represents 1,114 small producer-members, of which 291 are women with 478,966 coffee trees. COCAGI is located in Rusizi on the southern shores of Lake Kivu. COCAGI is also a member of Kwashoscco, an umbrella corporation dedicated to exportation support.
The Trade for Development Centre assisted COCAGI with coaching in marketing and €29,000 of financial support between January 2016 and December 2017. The goal was to contribute to a steady stream of revenue by improving market access and reinforcing their organisational capacity in marketing, communication and sales.
The coaching was organised in two phases:
- Tailor-made training that aimed at strengthening their candidature for the full coaching in marketing. That training covered the analysis of key figures and marketing data about the organisation while analysing the environment to outline threats, opportunities, strengths and weaknesses.
- Tailor-made coaching on marketing strategies by covering market analysis (internal/external), strategy definitions, target market identification, choice of marketing, promotion, communications, and new consumer prospection.
The coaching programme consisted of three modules spread across two years. It also led to the participation at two international fairs.
COCAGI has been hit hard by the Rwandan government’s zoning policy. This policy consists of allocating a coffee bean production area to a specific washing and roasting station. In 2017, the cooperative lost another part of its zone, and now they have only 155 members in their current zone.
In 2017, COCAGI had low production from its members. In order to meet their commitments to their customers, COCAGI had to buy 16 tons of green coffee from Buff Coffee (at $5.10).
They also had to rent a washing station in the area to cover the production of the lost areas. This washing station was rented for FRw 8 million. Unfortunately, the expected production of 4 containers was not reached. Only 1.5 containers were produced at this washing station.
In 2017, COCAGI sold little at the beginning of the season (1 contract in March, 1 contract in April and 2 more contracts in July). This resulted in cash flow difficulties in buying cherries.
Nevertheless, regarding their objective to export their quality coffee instead of selling it at a very low price locally, COCAGI succeeded: in 2017, 100% of the 15+ coffee (6C) was sold for export. This is a positive development, as COCAGI received the higher export price for all of its production.
In conclusion, and despite the difficulties encountered, COCAGI is succeeding in its survival strategy induced by the zoning policy.