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 history of conflict than coffee. However, these countries are traditional coffee-producing lands that have emerged as a vital source of high-end coffee in the last 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.
After spending 30 years in the Congo, Emmanuel Nzungize Rwakagara returned to Gisenji (Democratic Republic of Congo) to enlighten the cooperative previously created by his father: the COOPAC. The COOPAC Cooperative accounts for around 2,200 farmers located in the mountains to the east of Lake Kivu. The cooperative was created in 2001 and aimed to create a stable income and a valuable support network for its farmer members. To meet its goals, the association heavily invested in infrastructure that could provide a high-quality level and strengthen its members’ resources. On top of that, the cooperative is Rainforest Alliance certified, eco-certified, and is part of the World Agroforestry Centre. Thanks to its strategy, the COOPAC was nominated for the ‘Cup of Excellence’ at the Rwanda coffee cup of excellence in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Furthermore, the management used the premium fair-trade revenues to invest in building schools and healthcare centres, and to rehabilitate roads.
In 2010, the COOPAC and the Trade for Development Centre partnered to increase the cooperative’s turnover by 150% over three years and double its annual revenue from special premiums granted for fair, organic or sustainable coffee. To reach that ambitious goal, the TDC and COOPAC improved the quality of the coffee thanks to farmers’ training in organic farming techniques and better infrastructure investment while gaining the Fair Trade certification to access new markets with thoroughly washed organic coffee. The Trade for Development Centre supported the project with the financial assistance of €150,000 over three years.